Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Circling the Computer

I was on an interesting panel at California Crime Writers Conference last weekend. The topic was “The F word.” No, not that word. The word was “fear.” Turns out I’m not a fearful person with regard to writing, although I always have a few days of dread when I turn in a manuscript (what if my editor says, “Uh oh, this one doesn’t cut it.”).

The part that I found interesting is that a lot of people seem to feel embarrassed by procrastination. I listened as several people described their delaying tactics: making sure the kitchen is clean, checking emails, reading an article, doing a little social media, etc. Sound familiar? If it doesn’t, then you are unusual or perhaps telling a little fib.

I suggested that instead of procrastination, those activities could be dubbed “preparation.” Dennis Polumbo, who moderated the panel, said it would come under the heading of “process.” And one member of the audience delighted everyone by saying that her family teases her when they see her doing those little dances. They say, “Mom is circling the computer.” I told her I planned to steal the phrase (note the title above).

I have two different modes of processing my writing. The first is to get up at 6 AM, grab a cup of tea, and start writing. This is usually a first draft method. It works well for me, but only because I’m an early morning person. The second mode is to read the paper, do the Sudoku and Ken-ken, work out, eat breakfast, and finally start working about 10 AM. The first method is draconian and doesn’t allow for much in the way of preparation, and that’s deliberate. When I read The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, I did the morning pages and found that my ideas flowed faster and more freely when I went straight to the page. When I work on first draft, I like having no thoughts between me and the page.

The second works better after I have the first draft done. It gives me a chance to prepare for promotional work, to diddle around, and to keep my world running. In the first method, everything in my household tends to fall to pieces—where are the clean sox? When was the last time the dog had a bath? Why haven’t I written thank you notes to the people who hosted me? The second method allows me to keep my life in some order.

The trick is that, even if you allow yourself procrastination under the guise of preparation, at some point you have to say, “Enough!” and face the pages. Everyone always says I am disciplined, but what I know is that if I dither away the day and don’t get my work done, I feel like a total grump at the end of the day. Just as I would feel embarrassed and sleazy if I neglected to brush my teeth or wash my face. These are essentials. Wearing pajamas all day? That’s okay. Not brushing your teeth? Mmmm, not so much. I don’t think of it as discipline so much as necessity. Preparation is wasted if you don’t put it to good use.


DVBerkom said...

Great article! Love the "circling the computer" line :-) That is definitely what I do when preparing to write. I admire the 6am start on the 1st draft. I'm more along the lines of doing what needs to be done MWF and begin writing around 10-ish, and on T-TH I start as early as possible.

Terry said...

I like the idea of doing one time MWF an another T-TH.

By the way, readers, the woman I stole the line from is Nancy Raven Smith.