Procrastination, guilt, and dread

Procrastination is weird. The more you put something off, the guiltier you feel and the more you dread it. It turns an ant hill into a mountain, every time.

And yet I still do procrastinate. Not always on purpose—sometimes I’m tired or my head hurts and my brain is fuzzy.

But that dread builds up just the same, no matter the reason something (usually writing) gets put off.

In almost every case, the dread and anxiety are worse than the thing itself. And the anxiety-induced migraine is much, much worse. The feeling of relief that comes from writing a chapter in my novel after not writing a word for a week is immense.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

But the whole cycle of dread-anxiety-relief is avoidable if only I could just do it. And I often wonder, “Why can’t I just do it? Why put myself through this, over and over again?”

Of course, part of the problem are the incredibly high expectations I set for myself, which basically amount to: DO ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME. Intellectually I recognize this is not possible, and I’m getting better at not equating the quantity of things I do with the quality of things I do.

Comparing myself to what others are doing is another culprit of my procrastination. I can’t possibly live up to what Person A did, so why even bother? Sometimes it absolutely is a competition, but most of the time, it’s really not, so comparing myself to others just causes unnecessary anxiety.

When I procrastinate, I often do “productive” things like search for freelance jobs or look on Craigslist for cheap garden stuff (you don’t even know how many free bricks I need to build my new patio!) or scroll endlessly through social media to find tweets by authors I love that I can respond to (networking, am I right?). Sometimes I even clean my house!

All these things are great and even necessary, but when I start doing them too much (read: all the time), I know it’s a sign I need to close Tumblr, put away the mop, and Do The Work.

Most of the time, The Work is writing. Sometimes it’s a freelance assignment or book review, sometimes it’s homework (or will be in a few weeks). It might even be making a doctor’s appointment—I am the worst at this (seriously, I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for over a decade and only this summer did I find a primary care doctor).

I try to pay attention when I start doing any of these activities, like when I get to the fourth page of “free” stuff on Craigslist, I ask myself, “Okay, what am I avoiding right now?” The answer is almost always readily apparent.

The solution, of course, is stop looking for free bricks, take a deep breath, and start The Work.

Honk honk: August 2016 edition

Today is the first day in a long time where I haven’t had to be anywhere or do anything. It feels nice, if weird. I feel like I can breathe a little, plan the rest of my summer, and actually enjoy the nerdy nerdy things I love (oh video games, how I’ve missed you).

Time, as always, still runs out before I accomplish everything on my list (plus all the things I want to do but don’t put on my list), but I still have a good number of accomplishments to round up from the first stretch of summer:

  • My short story “What Jeannie Needs” was published in Rose Red Review,
    an online journal that publishes modern fairy tales. I’ll write up a little behind the scenes post for this story in the near future.
  • I interviewed Ranbir Singh Sidhu for The Rumpus. If you recall, I wrote about Ranbir’s book Good Indian Girls on this blog and followed that up with a short interview. After reading his novel, I wanted to do something more in depth. I highly recommend Deep Singh Blue, especially for anyone who’s ever felt completely out of place.
  • My short story “The Time I Listened to Warren Zevon for One Year Straight” will appear in Permafrost’s Summer 2016 online issue.
  • For the work blog, I wrote about my corgi’s degenerative nerve disease and the debut novel Lily and the Octopus, and apparently made some people cry. I also wrote about Pokémon Go, which hopefully didn’t make anyone cry.
  • And finally, my review of Sherrie Flick’s Whiskey, Etc., written for the work blog, was syndicated on Littsburgh. This is another fantastic book that I highly recommend.

Even though this is a great list, I feel guilty about the things I haven’t done: written a synopsis for my short story collection and novel so I can attempt to sell both projects to an agent, reading a friend’s novel, reading my husband’s novel, devoting serious time to Wild Age Press… I could go on forever. It’s something I’m working on with my therapist.

Maybe one day I’ll hack this time thing. But in the more likely scenario that I don’t, I’ll try to remember that friends, family, and writing are the important things, and those should always come before all the necessary chores of life.

On not writing

This has been one of those weeks where the words won’t come. Maybe it’s the heat and the humidity, maybe it’s the rough month I’ve been having, maybe it’s stress over money, and maybe it’s all of those things.

Sometimes, when I can’t write, I have to write about not being able to write to break through whatever block I’ve thrown in my own path (and it always is of my own design, unless I have a migraine, and that’s a different problem).

Not being able to write, not feeling like I’m adequately describing the story I see in my mind or the reasons I believe this or that, feels a lot like being stuck in a pressure cooker. All of those words build up and get hotter and hotter, but there’s nowhere for them to go. They’re stuck inside, and they can’t get out until I find the release valve.

When I don’t write, I start to feel stale, like week-old bread. I begin to harden, to lose my elasticity. I get irritable and discontent.

The best weeks and months are those when I get a steady pattern going: wake up at 6 a.m., eat breakfast, write for an hour or a half hour, then play with my dogs and get ready for work. It doesn’t even have to be every day. It can be three days out of five.

The worst weeks are ones like this one: too much stress over money, school, and the future, too little sleep, and hardly any writing. Weeks like this make me want to quit my job out of sheer frustration and become a full-time freelance writer—something I am capable of doing, certainly, but that doesn’t make the most sense for me right now.

Once I pick up a pen and drag it across a fresh sheet of paper—even to write about not being able to write—I remember why I love my job. Why a 9-5 actually works incredibly well for me. And most importantly, why I’ve built this life around the written word.

And then I can breathe again. Soon enough, the words flow.