A brilliant colleague of mine -- who is finishing her dissertation -- made the brilliant observation that there is a difference between procrastination and concentration.
She said that she puts off doing her work, but once she's settled down she can power forward for hours. It's true. I have seen her do it.
Leading a Dissertation Writing Intensive this week at Point of View (the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution's beautiful Lorton, VA center for peace), I observed exactly what she meant.
Some people just have a hard time sitting down. Once seated, however, they can dive in and plow forward.
Other folks tend to procrastinate because they cannot concentrate. They do not know what to do when they sit down. Even if they can get their butt in the chair, the question becomes "What to do?"
If you are in this group -- the one that avoids sitting down because you're scared and do not know how to move forward, here are a few suggestions...
Writers! What To Do When Paralyzed By Fear
1. Find someone you can talk to about your project. Just 15 minutes with your committed member can get you moving. Of course, because I am a writing coach, I believe in having a coach you can work with that is not your committee member. Sometimes it makes the most sense to save your committee member for the intellectual content not overwhelm issues. (For coaching information email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Break down the day's task into really small pieces. The night before you work, write down in as much detail as you can what you will do tomorrow.
Don't write how long you will work, just what you will do.
Examples of specific tasks:
3. Meet a friend and set very short time goals. This worked for my colleagues and I. The past two weeks we have been working together, setting the timer for 25 minutes and then diving in. The shorter bursts are easier and less overwhelming. Invariably, once the timer is off we want to keep going.
Writer Annie Dillard warns us...sit up with our writing, lest it become feral..
"I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as a with a dying friend. During visiting hours I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better soon.
This tender relationship can change in a twinkling. If you skip a visit or two, a work in progress will turn on you.
A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticate, a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength.
You must visit it every day and reassert your master over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, "Simba!"
Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life. Harper Perennial, 2013.
Last week, I somehow found myself in the U.S. Congress buildings lobbying for legislation that helps prevent genocide.
On my way to our group's allotted meeting spot, I ran into Joey at the elevators. He had a suitcase with him and I asked, "Are you moving in?"
He laughed. Turns out a joke was a good way to start with Joey. He's writes books on humor when not trying to end genocide. Macabre combination.
When I heard he was a writer, I immediately wanted to know his secrets. So, I followed him down to the cafeteria to buy tea I didn't need just so I could pick his brain while he picked at his over-cooked industrial eggs.
What's the secret to successfully writing books?
That's the $1,000,000 question or at least $50,000 question for a book with a small circulation. He offered this very simple advice,
"Once you accept that it is a slow process that builds gradually, you can stop being frustrated with the speed. Just keep building a little at a time. If you write one page a day in a year you have 365 pages."
Be satisfied with the slow build...keep going.
When Writing Just Keep Truckin....A Little Bit Every Day...
Sarah Federman, PhD