Writing is an Act of Courage

I strongly believe that writing is an act of courage. It’s almost a matter of physical courage. The second you have a brilliant idea, you make a point to remember it. Those of us who write know that never works. Ideas are fleeting. So we rush around looking for a pen and pad. Maybe we’re in the car, so we try to pull over and grab our notebook from the glove box. If you’re lucky enough to get in front of a note pad or laptop almost always what was brilliant before is somehow not so brilliant as you go to write. It’s as if you had a certain piece of music playing in your head that simply will not translate onto paper. And so you fail. You never really get that perfect work of art out of your brain.

What we cannot do as artists is consider the entire process a complete failure. First, do not call this phenomenon writer’s block, which means “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.” Although writer’s block happens to every writer, it is not the end of your creative life. It can be simply a matter of timing. Some ideas need to percolate longer than others. It’s just not time to write yet. It can be a matter of fear. Truly, writers are often fearful of rejection, and for a myriad of reasons. It’s not just a matter of  fearing you’ll never get published. Writing is a very personal undertaking. Even when we don’t realize it, we’re bearing our soul. We all have “back story,” and we’re all prone to leaking information about our lives, our loved ones, our deep, dark secrets. Being genuine is risky. I’ve heard it said most writers don’t have a writing problem; they have a telling problem.

So what is writer’s block?

Jerry Jenkins lists the four main causes of writer’s block in this order:

  1. FEAR. What if I fail? Solution? Keep publishing. Don’t stop. Embrace the fear, because it is legitmate. Humble yourself. Writing is hard work. It’s a lonely profession. Fear can be a great motivator.
  2. PROCRASTINATION. This is a big problem for me, as it is for most writers. Procrastination is inevitable, so find ways to fight through it. Jenkins embraces procrastination as an asset. As long as you develop a writing habit, those times you’re away from your writing desk your subconscious is working through the story.
  3. PERFECTIONISM. Many writers struggle with perfectionism. Stephen King suggests you never show your first draft to anyone. A writer friend of mine refuses to discuss a project during the first draft, saying it spoils the process. Your first draft is for an audience of one: you. Many writers, including Jenkins, insist you need to write your first draft and edit later.
  4. DISTRACTIONS. Without fail, every time you sit down to write, even if it’s your “scheduled” time to write, something intrudes on your concentration. It can be a person, a pet, a phone call, social media. So ask yourself how important your writing dream is to you and take a stand. Select a specific writing time. Turn off all other media. This is not the time to use social media or do research. This is your freestyle writing time. Period.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us get up and go to work”—Stephen King.

“I Can’t Tell if Procrastination Kills Creativity or is Essential to it.”

Grant Snider’s Twitter comment @grantdraws raises an interesting question. Does procrastination kill creativity, or is it essential to it? I’m certain Grant is thinking about that part of creativity where the artist or writer “mulls it over.” Chews on it a bit, allowing it to resonate with them. Puts it to a vote before the committee in their head. (Note: The chairman of this committee is your Internal Editor. The one member of the panel who tells you to re-write, re-write, re-write, then says it’s still no good.) A story, for example, often takes a long time to develop. It might begin with a single word, or a particular character. It might be totally subject-based. It could be inspired by a recent tragedy.

It is important to note, however, that procrastination has many highly descriptive synonyms. Could it be said that loafing inspires creativity? One of my best poems did come to me while loafing. What about delaying? How can delaying a project provide any positive outcome? Delaying is, well, simply not doing. Reminds me of the comment, “I’m going to try to write a poem.” According to the intergalactic wisdom of Yoda, there is no such thing as try. There is only do and not do. Some writers dabble in storytelling. Dabbling is akin to playing around, poking at a few words, trying to put them into sentences. Of course, puttering is another name for procrastinating. Doesn’t sound very productive. My favorite synonym for procrastinating is dilly-dallying. Takes me right back to my father’s admonishment: Stop dilly-dallying and get something done out there! You’re not going to the pool until the hedges are cut and the yard is mowed!

We cannot leave the definition of the word creativity out of this discourse. Creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work. When we create something, we turn new and imaginative ideas into reality. It involves the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, or providing entertainment. I’m sure you’ve heard that creativity involves “thinking outside the box.” Consider the comment, “a great artist is but a conduit for an expression that resonates with something that is greater than him.” There is participation here. Willingness. Openness. Procrastination is the antithesis of creativity. It basically shuts down that which is possible. And because all creative ideas are fleeting at best, putting off even the simple act of writing an idea down in your journal or notebook is almost a guarantee that the idea will be lost to you forever the minute you think of something else. Groceries, for instance.

Kurt Vonnegut said, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

There is nothing in Vonnegut’s statement that even hints at procrastination being good for creativity. Vonnegut is talking about leaping forward, immediately, leaning in to it, obeying your muse, grabbing a pen and paper, or sitting down at your laptop, and working. Creativity is work. Creativity is spontaneous. It is not achieved by sitting around, delaying, dilly-dallying, or puttering. Sentences, paragraphs, chapters, indeed entire books, get written by being written. Ruminating or mulling something over does, indeed, occur in the embryonic stage of creativity. This is the germination phase. Then there’s sprouting. After that comes pruning and watering and feeding, and then the harvesting.

I don’t see how procrastination can do anything but kill creativity.

Procrastination: Preventing the Decay of Delay

Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task which needs to be accomplished. It is the practice of doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, or carrying out less urgent tasks instead of more urgent ones, thus putting off impending tasks to a later time. Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but 20 percent of us chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions.

I recently read about “student syndrome,” which refers to the phenomenon where a student will begin to fully apply himself or herself to a task only immediately before a deadline. Results from a 2002 study indicate that many students are aware of procrastination. Procrastination is considerably more widespread in students than in the general population, with over 70 percent of students reporting procrastination for assignments at some point. A 2014 panel study from Germany among several thousand university students found that increasing academic procrastination increases the frequency of seven different forms of academic misconduct, such as using fraudulent excuses, plagiarism, copying from someone else in exams, using forbidden means in exams, carrying forbidden means into exams, copying parts of homework from others, fabrication or falsification of data and the variety of academic misconduct.

I have to share my own tendencies regarding procrastination. As a young boy, I put off doing my chores until they all piled up. As the afternoon sun baked me in the back yard, I could think of nothing but the community pool. The longer I put off trimming the hedges, the harder it became to complete the job. Every time I thought, “I’ll dust my room tomorrow,” the dirtier it got. Of course, invariably something else would take up my time the next day. Despite the many negative consequences, procrastination became one of my most troubling bad habits. It seeped in to many areas of my life. Putting off telling my wife I’d bounced a check. Deciding to wait on my laundry until I found myself rinsing out a pair of briefs and hanging them on the edge of the tub.

I was hit by “student syndrome” in college. Temporarily lulled by a false sense of the time required, I would look over the syllabus, then lope along with an unscheduled starting time and an undefined deadline. Suddenly, as the time to finish an assignment rapidly approached, my mind would start reeling. Oh no, I feel out of control! I’ve barely begun. How could I do this to myself again? So I would stay up half the night. Funny thing. I always nailed it. I kept  earning As “at the last minute,” which only served to reinforce my habit of procrastinating. I read a lot in college, but not usually what was assigned. I called it “collateral reading.” It helped me add scope to what I was learning in class. It also provided fuel for the procrastination fire I kept burning round the clock.

For me, procrastination became an automatic, negative, problem habit of needlessly postponing and delaying a timely and relevant activity until another day or time. I always end up doing some diversionary activity. I find myself saying, “I’ll fix the problem later.”  Because procrastination is a habit, when it exists along with conditions such as a negative mood, it’s likely you will frustratingly repeat procrastination patterns despite your heartfelt wishes to change for the better and avoid hassles associated with the habit. Procrastination typically has more to do with not wanting to address unpleasant feelings associated with a task.

I can suffer as much from the things I fail to do as the things I do. This is certainly true regarding my recovery from addiction. In order to maintain my sobriety and improve my life, I need to take regular action. Failure to do so can compromise my sobriety, which will put me at risk of relapse. I identify procrastination as  one of my primary character defects. I have gone as far as to liken it to dishonesty. Saying I am going to do something within a mutually-agreed time frame that I tend to put off for as long as I can is just like lying.

There are many reasons why people will procrastinate in recovery. In order to be successful, the alcoholic or addict will need to face his or her demons and overcome them. This type of work is not always comfortable, so there is a real tendency to put it off as long as possible. Recovering from addiction involves a great deal of change. Fear of the unknown can mean that the alcoholic or addict tries to delay making these needed changes. Some individuals are naturally “demand resistant,” and may fight the recovery process all the way. One way procrastination will manifest itself is putting off following a sponsor’s direction or moving forward with step work. Sometimes, alcoholics and addicts only take action after they’ve been backed into a corner, or hit bottom, where the cost of not taking action becomes too high. Some people just become accustomed to waiting for situations to escalate before they become willing to do something. This means that the person’s life will tend to be much more difficult than it needs to be.

Overcome the destructive power of procrastination in your life by tapping into encouraging affirmation and motivation. Then gain momentum as you move into action. You no longer have to live with discouragement or defeat, tied up with tension, riddled with remorse, and controlled by impossible ideals or feelings of fear or inadequacy. Liberation definitely is within your reach. To be set free requires taking a long look at your past in order to understand how you became a prisoner of procrastination and why you have remained a prisoner for so long.

Liberation also requires that you identify all of the “mind games” you play with yourself and others – the excuses or rationalizations that have enabled you to justify your procrastination. Once you take responsibility for these rationalizations and replace them with truth, you will have mastery over them. And once you are no longer a prisoner of the past, you will no longer be a perpetual procrastinator.

 

Sorry, I didn’t quite get around to it. Really? Again with the Procrastination?

Procrastination is simply the action of delaying or postponing something. The practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, thus putting off impending tasks to a later time, sometimes to the “last minute” before a deadline. This actually becomes a rather serious matter for many people. There is this tendency to change the priority of a task, thereby making it less likely that you will get to it any time today. Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we’ll feel tomorrow, or the next day. To me, procrastination is actually a form of dishonesty. First, you make a promise that you will get something done today for someone. Then, you put off starting any aspect of the project. You ultimately fail to deliver “the goods” when promised. Your dishonesty comes from giving someone your word only to  never get around to doing it.

This habit can become somewhat of a complex psychological behavior that effects everyone to some degree or another. Procrastinating has the potential to put you on the spot when the time comes that you were to have in your possession certain information or a special item. Perhaps there was a critical task you were meant to complete. Most people procrastinate, but some are so chronically affected by procrastination that it stops them fulfilling their potential and disrupts their actual work load. Procrastination not only affects a person’s work, but also commonly involves feelings such as guilt, inadequacy, self-disgust, stress and depression.

Procrastination. A similar experience to masturbation, it feels good while you’re doing it, but it sucks afterwards when you realize that you just screwed yourself. You are sitting there with nothing more than a wee willie of a problem. No story boards. No report. No photographs. No market studies. Just an idea that has no empirical evidence that it will work. Universally common to college students, procrastination is often addressed as a bad habit. Yet, in most cases, this isn’t a nuance, but a perpetual occurrence – no longer qualifying for the term “habit.”

Typically thought of as a behavioral trait, procrastination thrives on a cycle of blame shifting and avoidance. Falling victim to this “habit” myself, I embarked on a mission to seek out the causes of procrastination. Chronic procrastinators avoid revealing information about their abilities, prefer menial tasks, make poor time estimates, tend to focus on the past and do not act on their intentions. These characteristics have been related to low self-esteem, perfectionism, non-competitiveness, self-deception, self-control, self-confidence, depression and anxiety.

Behavioral procrastination is equated with self-handicap. Essentially, this self-handicap provides a means for further blame shifting, as could be seen in an example of a student doing poorly on an exam and using procrastination as an excuse. Studies on self-handicapping have shown that people use a wide variety of strategies in order to construct barriers for their success. The placing of these mental barriers is the work of the I-function manipulating the internal experience. Two studies conducted by Ferrari and Tice in a laboratory setting had participants (men and women) perform an identical task twice. In the first study, participants were notified that they would be evaluated on their performance of the task. Time was allotted for practice or engaging in fun activities. Results found that participants procrastinated for 60% of the time. The second study described the identical task as a fun game. Results of activity during the time allotted showed that procrastinators, in comparison with non-procrastinators, spent the same of amount of time on the practices. Thus, the results suggest that procrastination was a behavioral self-handicap only when the task was deemed evaluative. The pervasive tendency of the self-handicap creates a cycle of self-defeating behavior, which in turn send negative feedback to the I-function. Correspondingly, this self-inflicted degradation and shame is translated into health problems.

The second type of procrastination is decisional, e.i., postponing a decision when dealing with conflicts and choices. People with high decisional procrastination display tendencies of perfectionism in taking longer to make decisions. Thus, the study by Ferrari and Dovido hypothesized that people with higher decisional procrastination, in comparison with people lower in decisional procrastination, seek out more information about a chosen alternative before making a decision. This hypothesis underscores the fear of error and necessity for perfection in people with high decisional procrastination. In addition, varying levels of decisional procrastination correlates to fundamental differences decisive strategies.

The argument Ferrari and Dovido put forth associate decisional procrastination with caution and assurance of correctness, by collecting data, before making a decision. Clearly the implications of this form of procrastination differ from those of behavioral procrastination, characterized by distraction and avoidance. Decision-making or critical thinking, is an activity of the brain. Yet, it seems to me that people with high decisional procrastination take greater care in taking a step forward, thus the I-function would have to be considered in light of the fact that while a decision is being made, the thoroughness is connected to notions of concern, desire and fear; reflecting individual traits. If there is a problem with the prefrontal cortex, there is no filter mechanism at work. Underactivity of the prefrontal cortex is common with Attention Deficit Disorder. While this argument is compelling, it personally made me feel as though I experience underactivity of the prefrontal cortex all too frequently. The behavioral aspects of the frontal lobe are critical in functioning from day to day and it is the abundance of these characteristics that make it seem unlikely that they would all be working perfectly at any point in time. On a lighter note, the prefrontal cortex offers the procrastinator a scientifically legitimized excuse for procrastination.

To balance the negative connotation of procrastination, there is evidence in the decisional procrastination theory (overly cautious decision-making) that it may have positive long-term functions. In all fairness, the opposing view is that procrastination is essentially an obstacle to achievement in both the long-term and the present. The attitude one takes towards procrastination is connected to which argument is more convincing. I began my research to find out why my friends and I put off work until the last minute. In return I uncovered debates of psychological v. biological, underscored with mind v. brain. Procrastination is a strong act of agency supported by the I-function. The neuro-biological perspective of the prefrontal cortex stripped procrastination of any elements of agency. While eradicating procrastination will never occur on a universal level, we can hopefully removed the myth surrounding the ever-common act and in effect may even encourage an individual to start studying, compiling, ordering, calling, inviting, or otherwise planning earlier.

It’s tempting to think that definitions are only for beginners, too simple for serious consideration and your time here as an expert. I disagree. We need to think carefully about our definition and, most importantly, the assumptions in the definition.

Overcoming procrastination is often easier said than done, especially for those who procrastinate! Are you one of those people who always find some reason to wait until next week to start getting fit and healthy and begin that new healthy lifestyle you have been talking about?  Well, if you are, I suggest you stop talking, stop procrastinating, and start doing!  Those who keep putting healthy living off remind me of that old Saturday Night Live character named Rosanne Roseanna Danna, played to perfection by the late Gilda Radner.  Those of you familiar with Gilda will remember that “It’s Always Something” was the punch line for her Rosanne Roseanna Danna character, the embodiment of the necessity of overcoming procrastination.  I might add that it was also the title of Gilda’s autobiography!

With that said, I have some news for those of you who have been seeking means of overcoming procrastinating.  No matter what you do, who you are or how well you prepare, something will always come up to test your will, confront your motivation and challenge your commitment to healthy living.  This is not only the rhythm of life; it is also a reality of lifestyle change as well.  So why not make today THE DAY you start overcoming procrastination and living that healthy life because there will never be a time with no interruption.  As Gilda would say, “It’s always something!”

“Procrastination usually results in sorrowful regret. Today’s duties put off until tomorrow give us a double burden to bear; the best way is to do them in their proper time.” ~ Ida Scott Taylor