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Thursday, 7 June 2012

Procrastination Is The Thief of Time

This small nugget of wisdom flowed from the pen, or quill, of Edward Young, an English poet and dramatist. It comes from his work, Night Thoughts, written 1742-5.

In spite of the age of the quote, it is as apposite and relevant today as it ever was, possibly more so. Today, we are beset by so many more distractions stemming from the things with which we surround ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but I love the act of writing, the process of those words flowing from the ether via my brain and fingers to the keyboard. I love it. So, why do I put off the moment when I should start? Why do I find so many other things to do rather than engage in a pastime that I love?

It’s irrational, isn’t it? And I pride myself on being rational. But, perhaps this is the issue. Writing isn’t generally a rational process, especially if writing fiction, which is my favourite genre. Writing fiction requires an engagement with a level of fantasy, mixed with elements of reality, of course. But that necessity to dwell in the world of fantasy removes the writer from the rational world. And, perhaps, it is the need for this move into the creative sphere that allows the writer to lose sight of the need for discipline.

Creativity is a delicate affair. It’s necessarily subject to influences beyond the reasoning mind. An engineer, that most grounded of imaginers, can create a working machine that depends on the laws of physics and the use of pragmatism, but the leap of faith that raises a standard machine to the level of brilliant invention depends almost entirely on intuition. For those of us who are artists, in all fields, imagination is the prime driver of our creations. So, it’s hardly surprising that we can be deflected from the work of exercising that difficult to define aspect of ourselves by qualities that are more easily identified. What I’m saying here is that when we create, we take risks, and human beings are generally resistant to risk. We risk being made to look foolish in the eyes of our peers, and, more importantly, being made ridiculous in our own eyes.

So, we engage in activities we can rely on, activities that require little risk. I find myself drawn to answering emails, engaging in social chat on Facebook, promoting various stories via Digg, StumbleUpon and LinkedIn. I will respond to those connections made via Pinterest (there’s an addictive social grouping if ever there was one). And whilst I’m able to convince myself that this activity has some value in that it spreads my name wider and increases my online visibility, I know deep down that I am merely putting off the moment when I must put my fingers to the keyboard and produce some new combinations of frequently used words. I have no real grounds for fear in this regard: I am frequently able to sit down and produce a story with absolutely no planning. So, I have no experience of being blocked to prevent my getting on with it. Similarly, I seem to be able to draw ideas from the ether so that I am rarely short of things to write about. So, what stops me from actually getting on with it?

I think part of it comes from a perceived need to start with a clear desk: I hate clutter, both material and intellectual. So, I’ll find excuses to clear actual objects - writing magazines awaiting responses to articles, details of writing contests to transfer to my Writing Contests page on this blog, unanswered emails that require a considered response, messages on social sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. I pretend I have a need to clear these items before I’ll be ‘ready’ to do some writing. This is so, even though experience tells me I can get out of bed, sit down at the keyboard and write straight away, regardless of ‘stuff’ piled on my desk or in my Inbox.

So, is it laziness? Is my subconscious just playing games with me and pretending it doesn’t want to do the work, kidding me that the other stuff is more important?

No, I think it’s almost entirely a combination of discipline, or the lack of it, and organisation, or the lack of that as well. Because of this, I’ve developed a Time Chart in which I’m recording the time I spend on each task during the day. I hope this will show me just how much of my time is spent doing things I really don’t need to do. I have always held that the most precious resource we have is time. If I discover I’m wasting that one thing we can never recover or replace, I expect it to have a salutary effect on my behaviour. I’ll let you know the outcome of my little experiment.

In the meantime, I invite you to think about how you procrastinate and what things get in the way of actually creating. Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments space below. You know you want to; after all, it’s a way of putting off that moment when you’ll have to face keyboard or pen and paper and actually construct sentences with words, building paragraphs and finally chapters and, maybe, even a novel!

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