Today I’m thrilled to bring you a guest post from a writer friend I met at the conference in Chamonix, France. Her thoughts apply to all of us, not just writers!
Procrastination or Perfectionism?
Either Way, beat ’em down or you’ll get nothing done!!
I once took a book out of the library about procrastination and why we do it (or don’t do it as it were). I know it seems like an obvious joke but I did, in fact, return the book late and without having really read it. However, I managed to skim a chapter or two and from that gleaned a theory that stuck with me: procrastination is a form of perfectionism, a built-in excuse in case you fail. It bears repeating:
Procrastination is a form of perfectionism, a built-in excuse in case you fail.
For example, if I had only studied more than an hour for that test I’m sure I would have got an ‘A’ instead of a ‘B’ but I’ll never know because I didn’t study long enough for it. Currently that version is: I’m sure if I just sat down and wrote every day for at least three hours, I would finish my book, my short story, that rewrite of my screenplay. Certainly I’m not alone in this. As an author of a book on screenwriting once wrote “my house is never cleaner than when I start working on a new screenplay”.
Procrastination can look like many things. It is more than just binge watching the latest season of “Archer” or “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (merely examples of course, not like I’m writing from experience or anything) or scrolling through a social media feed on your phone or just lying on the couch staring at the ceiling. It can be a trip to a favorite shoe store to try on a coveted pair of sandals that are perfectly comfortable and well-crafted, a jam-making and scones, muffins, and pie baking spree after buying ten pounds of fresh BC blueberries (stellar season), or, as I currently type away, a pot of quinoa vegetable soup simmering on the stovetop during a rainy night. Most of these activities are productive and useful but if they replace the one thing you really ought to be doing because it’s your main goal then they are merely distractions.
I’m examining my own procrastinating tendencies because my new friend, Pam Parker, whom I met during the Mont Blanc Writing Workshop in Chamonix, France this past June asked if I would like to write a guest blog about the workshop. I replied I did and then spent so long not writing it that it seemed like I let the moment pass me by and it felt like it was too late to attempt it. Because of that I had to ask myself some tough questions about why I chose to keep putting this off, even when it was rattling around my brain for over a month. Certainly it would be simple and straightforward to write about the wonderful people I met and the guidance and instruction we received from the incredibly talented and notable authors who led each of our groups; in my case, Pam Houston, who instilled in me the mantra “concrete, physical details”. It would be easy to reflect on the majestic mountain peaks that encircled us and inspired us as we took part in these intensive workshops over a two-week period. Scenery that was truly awesome in the very real definition of that word. The hikes, the train rides to the nearby towns, the spectacular view from the top of Aiguille du Midi followed by the cable car ride down where, after every dramatic bounce of the car the chorus of “whoa” in a half dozen or more different languages became one of my favorite travel memories. Certainly if I couldn’t compile at least a few sentences on how all of this informed me and helped me evolve my own work I would have no business being a writer myself and that thought is the very “aha” moment for me, the illumination of the nagging doubts that could keep me from writing this and from finishing my stories. The fear of exposure, of putting it out there and coming up short, the nagging worry of being mediocre. Another writer friend of mind voiced it out loud once as “derivative, derivative, derivative”. That was the refrain that made up her fear and it dances around my head too.
Not a writer but certainly a driven achiever, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, once said, “I miss a hundred percent of the shots I don’t take”. Gretzky’s mantra has been resonating with me these past few weeks as I grappled with my psyche. At some point the fear of failure and/or the fear of success that lines the low-hanging cloud of procrastination needs to give way to the bigger fear of not achieving one’s goals or dreams, not knowing how far we could reach simply because we hung back. For all of us who wonder why we don’t just go for it we have to ask ourselves if the worst thing that could happen isn’t if we fail, it’s if we didn’t try enough. We can only know how much we can achieve, how many of our goals and dreams can be realized if we simply take the shot and then keep taking the shot every day.
I just looked up some of the notes I highlighted from the Chamonix sessions and posted on my phone for easy reference. The last one was a reminder I crafted for myself: ass in seat. Every. Day. It’s discipline and consistency, writing and patiently rewriting. No shortcuts. No magic solutions. The truth is too I enjoy it. It may not always be easy but when I get a good flow happening on the page or even just come up with exactly the right word that rush that I feel is joy. That joy is also what I had in Chamonix so what a waste it would be to not use all the tools I learned and all the inspiration I gathered there from the other writers. It’s time to finish what I start, time to defy my procrastinating tendencies, one word at a time. Sentence by sentence, one paragraph followed by another, page by page. Ass in seat every day.
Thank you Pam Parker for giving me a forum to express this. Now I can have a bowl of that vegetable quinoa soup that is simmering on the stove.
ps – I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Michael Dahlie for organizing the Mont Blanc workshop, our instructors from the second session: Alan Heathcock, Pam Houston, and Cheryl Strayed, the writers in my group who provided me with invaluable feedback and inspiration from their own remarkable works, as well as the participants in the other groups whom I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know over glasses of wine, tastings of French cheese and the delicious tartiflette.
PPS – from Pam – Carmen sent this to me on August 5th, and it wasn’t procrastination that kept me from it — mostly. It was deadlines and other work for a forthcoming anthology, but…. Sincerely sorry for the delay and many, many thanks, Carmen!
Carmen Siegers started her working life in television news as a producer at a local station in Calgary. It was a way to tell stories on a daily basis but her first love, the film and television industry, still called so one September instead of going back to school, she packed up her things and headed to the west coast to start over with a new job working in the playback department on a short-lived television show called “Broadcast News”. When that was over she stayed in Vancouver until last year when the call of family and friends led her back to the other side of the Rockies. She currently is at work on several short stories, a book, and an idea for a television pilot.