Honestly, I have no shame in admitting that I am equal parts procrastinator and masochistic. In fact, I’ve discussed these shortcomings very candidly on this here blog. But I can no longer hide from the fact that it’s all becoming quite taxing. The truth is that I’m tired of playing the mind games that I have created for myself.
One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, has been known to offer sage advice to fellow and burgeoning scribes. She even wrote a book dedicated to the craft entitled, Bird by Bird. The book is a gem, really, but because I’m a bit of a Stan, I have the tendency to believe that everything she writes is a masterpiece. Along with reading her brilliant fiction and non-fiction, I follow her on Twitter where she rants about life, her pets, politics and of course, her writing. Whenever she feels blocked, she nudges herself with a few choice words about the virtues of sitting one’s “butt in the chair.” That would be a logical first step to getting words onto the page, right? Oh, how I wish it was that simple, though. Then again, I wonder why I continue to make it oh, so complicated. It’s right here, at this juncture, that my masochism kicks in.
Over the years, I’ve become accustomed to living on the edge of deadlines. Whether it’s a cover story, lifestyle profile or personal essay, I tend to wait until the last minute. It’s my painful truth. Also, as much as I hate it, I am the queen of transcribing my own interviews, even though my editor insists that I utilize the services of a “professional.” Each time she asks, I decline because as much as I abhor this tedious task, it is a necessary evil when it comes to writing a story – for me, anyway. By the time the transcript is done (I’ve clocked it as an hour of transcribing for every 10 minutes of chatter – the horror!), I know where all the quotes are and I’ve already written the story, in my head. It’s just part of the process, but I put it off for as long as possible. Every time.
But that’s work. Now I’m also writing for me and when I say that procrastination has taken over my very being, I am so incredibly serious. There are times when I feel like I’ve been drugged. It’s like someone has slipped an IV into my vein and injected me with a wicked strain of “I’ll do it later.” Ironically, I can still hear the clock ticking, though. It’s the strangest thing.
Sometimes when I’m chatting with my mother, I’ll off-handedly ask her the time. She usually gives it to me in EST and I’ll do a quick three-hour subtraction for my zone. On other occasions, her time-checks are unsolicited. “You know it’s 3 o’clock, right?” My reply is always the same. “Mother, believe me, I know exactly what time it is.” And I do. Even when laying around reading my books and mags (reading helps the writing – really!) or bingeing through House of Cards, I am aware of the time. I know what time of day it is, I know how many days/hours I have until my next deadline and I’ve already tallied up the possible number of hours of sleep I’ll miss to make up for the time spent on the sofa. I am fully aware.
But that’s about deadlines, for work. I know just how much rope to give myself on a story, but as I expand my resume, I realize that my methods are getting played out. For instance, I pulled an all-nighter earlier this year and there are times when I think I’m still paying for it. Long story short, said all-nighter went something like this – “Oh my God, it’s 11:00pm…now it’s 1:30am…3:00, it’s 5:15…no…deep breaths…please, somebody, help me find the words to finish this story…please!” Finally, at 6:11am, I hit “send” and two seconds later, washed off my make-up and hit the pillow, for less than an hour. By 7am, I was peeling myself out of bed to start the new day. I don’t feel like doing that anymore. I really don’t.
This weekend, I was looking for an e-mail and stumbled upon some of my drafts from yesteryear. And then, of course, I kept digging. Wow. It’s really amazing how a mini-trip down memory lane can shift your perspective. Reading those drafts reminded me of how exhilarating it was to crank out story-after-story, even when I had really crazy deadlines and had to fight, tooth-and-nail, over edits. I even read through a few stories that I’d forgotten about and some that, sadly, never saw the light of day. I remember loving them all the same, though. I still do.
All that said, I realize how much I need to change my ways, but instead of beating myself to a pulp about it, I have decided to take slow, small steps. Rather than giving into procrastination so easily, I will think of Anne’s advice and go sit my butt in the chair. That’s where I am now and really, it’s not so bad. I will sit here until the words come, until they flow. Maybe it’s really that simple after all.