The Writing Life: Doubts Part 4: Procrastination, The Thief of Time

I’m going to try to keep this one brief. You know, because I’ve got things to do.

In this fourth installment of the doubt series, (Here are one, two and three) I’d like to say that procrastination can be a profound expression of doubt, of fear holding us back.

I held myself back for 25+ years. From the age of 19 when I first started writing The Crystal Fruit to last October when at 46 I published The Thief and The Demon. I spent years telling other people, and more importantly, myself, that I wasn’t quite ready to submit, or to publish. Why? I had material, but always I was ‘most of the way’ through various edits and revisions, never able to find my way to the finish line. Did I really want to finish? On reflection, I don’t think so. If I’d been serious I’d have got help sooner, would have exposed myself to criticism in order to improve myself earlier. Instead I talked a good game about writing, waxed rhapsodic about my ideas and imaginings of execution… but didn’t actually execute.

That is meta-level procrastination, the refusal to take the final steps to put your work out there. I was afraid of failure. There is a common saying: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” For me it was “Better to never finish and think yourself a writer, than publish and be found out as a fraud.” I was invested in not discovering the worst. Doubt robbed me of optimism. The uncertainty of doubt is a weapon, but also, once you are used to it, it can become something of a security blanket. Back then I’d rather remain unsure of whether or not I had any talent than submit to agents and be rejected, than publish and find no readers, or a wall of negativity and derision. Better to do nothing, than do something and risk having all your cherished illusions shattered. When you are suffocated by doubt it becomes all you know, and you’d rather live in doubt than be exposed to certainty and discover, once and for all, that your dreams are broken.

Did I say doubt sucks?

So you procrastinate. If you don’t get to the end of the line, you don’t have to know what the outcome will be. Waste some time instead. Do all the common-or-garden procrastination ploys. Allow distractions to take you easily away from your writing. Make excuses for your failure to hit targets and deadlines. One more cup of tea. One more episode of that TV show. Oh, is that another evening gone with no writing? No problem, I’ll get at it tomorrow morning. Right after checking my email. And what is that headline? I need to find out the football results too. And what’s happening in the Supreme Court? I’ve been sitting too long. Maybe go for a walk. Need to make lunch. Have a shower. Play some pool. Anything, anything except write. Computer games: yes let’s replay Baldur’s Gate in every character class. That was so necessary. Online games. Oh. My. God. The Nirvana of procrastination has been found. A quick quest. I’ll just drop in to see how the Guild is doing. Make some potions. Just click away from that Word document, you’ve just got to click away from that Word document! Because at core, the fear of finishing and finding out you’re a fraud is smothering your desire to write. Who wants to learn that about themselves? No one rational, so the rational act is to avoid facing that possibility. And besides, you’ve got a job. It takes up all your time. You let weeks and months pass without writing. You think about it, though. Wake up with ideas. Maybe jot the odd note down, to pretend you’re still on it, still committed, but always you’re doing something peripheral, never actually moving the body of your work forward. Life is busy, you say, as your writing heart quietly breaks.

Procrastination is the thief of time. The time you steal from yourself, because doubt and fear have convinced you that only negativity awaits you at the end of the long road that is your writing journey.

But they lie. Doubt and fear distort your thought. They try to force you into submission, into inactivity. They kill your dreams by making you fear your dream can never come true, so you stop trying, procrastinating away your life.

Screw them.   <– Great blog on facing down self-doubt behind that link, by the way. Well worth a read.

Don’t let procrastination lay a hold on you. Cultivate to-do lists with achievable goals. I started with ridiculously easy ones (put a stamp on an envelope), just so I could check those boxes and move forward. If you bite off more than you can chew, you can get overwhelmed and decide it is all too much and go back to doing nothing – so make your goals achievable, and scale up as you can do more. Get into the habit of getting stuff done. Work your old procrastination tactics into a timetable: they can have their time after you’ve worked. I still make potions.

It’s not easy, and I have backslid into procrastination here and there, but I have also felt the reward of defeating doubt, moving past my own fear, and putting my writing out there. And you know what? Disaster did not strike. My fears did not come true. My doubts were not realized. People have read my story. Some have even liked it enough to say so. (I am always in the market for more honest reviews – contact me if you want a copy of my book in exchange for a review. I am not afraid of an honest opinion anymore, good or bad – my own doubts were a tougher opponent than any poor review would be! (He says now, before harsh reviews arrive and my blotted tears boost the stocks of kleenex!))

There isn’t a universal fix, but I’m here to say that letting 25 potentially creative years pass before finally publishing was a huge mistake. Do not rob yourself of time the way I did. Believe, and act.

8 thoughts on “The Writing Life: Doubts Part 4: Procrastination, The Thief of Time

  1. I held myself back for a while too, but not 25 years. I stopped writing in high school, through my 3 year Army tour, and even in college I only wrote for class. I ended up writing one story after college for a contest, but that was it. It took about seven years for me to pick up the pen again, so to speak. But now I am all in. I assume you are the same, right? No looking back. 😀

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