The Many Faces of Procrastination, Part II

Last week I shared Part I of this post about the many faces of procrastination, and the underlying reasons it shows up. It's not necessarily "just" writer's block or laziness, which are the common explanations I hear.

There are actually a number of variations on the theme of procrastination, and it's usually driven by something deeper, like feeling stuck, being overwhelmed, being hooked by perfectionism, or wrestling with past creative wounds that need addressing -- some of the examples I wrote about last week.

Let's look at a few more of these writing-stoppers that show up as procrastination.

You're creatively confused.

Creative confusion is one of the most fascinating causes for procrastination I've come across (perhaps because it's one of my personal "favorites"). Creative confusion will have you spinning in circles, not sure which direction to go with your story, considering multiple ideas and perspectives, and feeling unable to decide among them. It's as if everything suddenly has equal value and there's no differentiating them. 

Part of the issue here is empowerment. When you forget that you're the architect of your story and that there's not necessarily a "right" way to write it, it's easy to get confused. Confusion can also be a smokescreen for the fear that you'll get it "wrong."

Antidotes: Make the shift into action by being willing to do the work of sorting through your ideas by putting them on paper and evaluating them as objectively as you can. One of the ways creative confusion keeps you stuck is that it all happens very quickly in your head. Get it down, and figure it out. And remember that you're the one in charge. It can also be helpful to talk it through with a trusted coach or writing pal who has your story's best interests at heart (not her ideas for what you "should" do).

You're feeling apathetic about your book (or script).

Creative boredom or apathy is another one of these super tricksters that can keep you locked into procrastination. You don't write because it feels like you've "just lost interest" in your story. Interestingly, this usually happens when you've just hit (or are about to hit) a major milestone with your story, or you're about to tackle the next stage. What's happening here is that a new level of fear is cropping up and putting the brakes on to minimize your risks of failure.

In other words, it ain't about the story. 

Antidotes: Keep on keeping on. The only way out is through. While there may be passages in your book that are need work, that's a storytelling problem, not "time to give up on the whole project" problem. This is the place to commit to finishing, no matter what.

This is also a great time to remind yourself of your Why for the project -- why you started writing it in the first place. Sometimes just tracking back to the Why will be enough to get you in action again.

You're having trouble deciding which book to write.

This kind of procrastination turns up when you know you want to write or feel ready to write but you can't decide which story to work on, or you decide on one, only to change your mind in short order, usually telling yourself it's not good enough in some way, then look around for something else to work on, only to dismiss that one too. And the next one after that.

This kind of procrastination can also look like coming up with a bazillion ideas to work with but not being able to choose among them. 

Antidotes: Check out my free downloadable guide about how to choose your next book (or script) using decision criteria and intuitive decision making skills. You can also try one of my favorite bits of Steven Pressfield's wisdom, which is to "figure out what scares you the most, and do that first."

(If, on the other hand, you're totally drawing a blank for any ideas at all, try Elizabeth Gilbert's approach of paying attention to your faintest whispers of curiosity and see where they lead you.)

You've fallen out of the habit of writing and each day that goes by, it gets harder to restart.

If your writing practice has fallen apart -- for whatever reason -- procrastination has taken hold and it's just not getting any better. Each day you tell yourself you're going to write, but find endless distractions around the house, get caught up in work (or TV or candy crush!), tasks to take care of, or toilets to clean. This is "garden variety" procrastination in my book, but it's still a doozy.

Antidotes: Set a very small writing goal and meet it. Then do it again the next day. And the next. Keep going until you have the practice in place. Troubleshoot any obstacles that come up -- like falling into reading email or getting sucked into other tasks -- and find ways to streamline your path to your writing desk each day. If you set a goal, and you're still procrastinating, make the goal smaller until you actually do it. Get accountability to help you with this if you need it. (Work with me 1:1 or join the Circle, for example.)

You're dealing with big personal changes.

Look, sometimes big life events happen and the idea of tackling writing at the same time feels (and may even be) impossible. Major illnesses, weddings, new romances, births, deaths, break ups, divorces, moves, and job changes are life changes that can get in the way of writing and then morph into "regular" procrastination even once the dust has settled. It's okay. It happens. But it's helpful to know how to deal with it when a big part of your identity is tied into being a writer and you start losing your sense of self while it's all happening, and then wonder who you are when it's done.

Antidotes: Be patient with yourself during the upheaval, and give yourself a little time for re-entry. You may want to have a "maintenance practice" of writing morning pages in place during these times, even as a placeholder until you can get back to your book or script writing efforts. Have a plan in place for how and when you'll reboot your writing once you've made it through the thick of the experience. If you find yourself still struggling with your identity after the fact, do some journaling or coaching work to help get you back in touch with yourself as a writer.

You're an adrenaline addict.

One of the most fascinating parlor tricks I see writers engaging in is creating an endless series of non-writing emergencies, deadlines, and disasters that make it impossible to write. This is procrastination at its peak form, because it becomes inarguable. Whatever "it" is, has become such an emergency, that it has to be done right now. At this point, it actually does. But when a writer lives this way, chasing from disaster to disaster, writing always gets to stay (safely) at the bottom of the pile.

The trickiest trick of all is that the purveyor of these hijinks deep down revels in the sense of excitement and in being the rescuer of the situation from certain doom. It turns out, writers who do this to themselves are addicted to the rush of it all, and they'll even design it so they "get" to write this way too (at the last minute, in a mad panicked rush).

This strategy does two things. It's a brilliant way of getting off the hook for doing your best work, because you simply can't, not with all those emergencies to take care of. It's also very clever way of getting an adrenaline boost of energy to face the terror of writing. 

Antidotes: Admit the addiction. Make a conscious choice to stop this behavior. Learn to pace yourself -- with everything, including your writing -- and get ruthless about cutting out anything and everything you don't have to do. You don't have to do everything and you don't have to do it all perfectly. Cut some corners! 

You're just plain tired.

Maybe you're not exhausted, but "just" tired. Maybe you haven't reached the point of creative burnout, like I mentioned last week, but maybe you have other non-writing commitments that tax you. Some of these are avoidable (volunteering for committees) and some are not (having little kids or an aging parent), but either way you're tired. This tiredness becomes an excellent excuse for procrastinating. "I'm tired," you say. "I just don't have it in me today to write. I'll do it tomorrow."

Antidotes: I've always loved the quote from David Whyte on this subject, “You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest? … The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.” When it comes to the daily sort of tiredness that can leave us feeling run down (as opposed to massively burned out), writing regularly -- even just in small amounts -- is often the cure. Also, take a look at how you're investing your precious life energy and see where there might be energy leaks you can shore up. Look for where you're not feeling a "Hell, yes!" about the things you've committed to and think about letting them go. Work with a friend or coach to inventory your commitments and see what you can release for someone else to handle.

 

So... what did I leave out? What other ways have you seen procrastination show up?

Tell me in the comments section below. 

 

 

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

7 ways to recommit to your writing

Writing consistently, regularly, and honestly is a challenge.

But it's a challenge worth meeting.

And when it comes to delivering on that task, it turns out that discipline is an over-rated solution when it comes to writing. Having a writing system and habit is what gets it done, day in and day out. But even when you have a writing habit in place, you still have to constantly refine it, improve it, and raise the bar when you get complacent. 

Because there are times in our writing lives when we can become complacent. We can hit rough patches and take breaks. We can lose momentum or get our writing disrupted by travel or work or kids or LIFE. We can lose confidence in our projects and our ability to write. We can get knocked on our asses by feedback that takes weeks to recover from. And we can also fall into writing without purpose or intention, particularly when we don't have specific deadlines or milestones we're trying to hit. 

The problem is that this kind of complacency will suck the vibrancy out of you, your writing, and your writing life. You might appear to be productive, as one of my Writer's Circle members said this week, but really, you're asleep with your eyes open and you know it. And it doesn't feel good. 

The solution?

Recommitment.

When you find yourself in this place, it's time to recommit to yourself as a writer. To your writing. To your writing life.

It's about shifting back into a higher gear. Treating your writing like the life's calling it is. Making it a priority. Making it happen.

7 ways to recommit to your writing

When you find yourself phoning it in or going through the motions, here's what you can do to change it up and get back on track with what you were put here to do:

  1. Write like your life depends on it. You’re here to write, right? So do that. Take your writing seriously. Move mountains if necessary to make it happen, even if you’re hitting only your barest minimum “rock bottom goal” for the day. It counts, and it makes a big difference to your psyche when you honor your commitment to yourself this way.
  2. Up your game. Check in with yourself about how you’re feeling about your writing. You might be feeling lulled into a sense of complacency. You might be feeling good about your writing and what you’re accomplishing. But if you have a nagging sense that it’s time to require more of yourself, do that. Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals to help you make that happen. Look for deadlines or create them. Get accountability into place for yourself. Do what you're saying you're going to do. Create a sense of alertness, urgency, or briskness for yourself about your writing so you remember why you are here and make it happen.
  3. If today you can’t write, couldn’t bring yourself to write, don’t want to write, hate writing, or something else happened that stopped you from writing, TELL SOMEONE SAFE. This is a little bit like falling off the wagon if you are a recovering alcoholic. You've got to talk to your sponsor ASAP. Get to your people as fast as you can and get help getting back on track. Tell them/us your worst, darkest thoughts about writing. We can take it. We’ve probably had those same thoughts too. The thing is, we ALL have obstacles to writing. They run the gamut from perfectionism to distraction to limiting beliefs to creative confusion and apathy. Our collective work as writers is to systematically unearth and remove these obstacles one by one so they no longer stop us from doing what we were put here to do. (This is a big focus of what we do in the Writer's Circle, and what’s particularly brilliant about the system is that seeing other writers remove obstacles helps us do so too.)
  4. Stay out of comparison. Everyone is on their own path when it comes to writing. Someone else will be writing more than you, someone else will be writing less. Someone will be more successful than you are right now and someone will be less so. IT DOESN’T MATTER. We are all on our own writing journeys. What matters is that you are meeting your own goals and working on your writing habit and writing career based on where you are and where you want to go. So you if you see someone writing for 4 (even 8 or 10!) hours a day and someone else aiming to write for 5 minutes a day, don't worry about it. Just keep your eyes on your own paper and what you are doing for yourself. It’s all good. Just keep writing.
  5. Plan ahead. If you’re writing for 5 of 7 days per week or taking holidays off or whatever it is that you are doing — decide ahead of time. Don’t have the conversation about “IF” you are writing today. Know that you’re writing or not writing that day and act accordingly. Have the conversation about “WHEN” you will be writing. It’ll be much easier that way.
  6. Be as clear as possible about what you’re working on. This whole writing thing is a LOT easier if you have one specific project you’re working on and keep working on until it’s done. Particularly if you’re in writing habit building mode, you may find it easier to focus on simpler writing, like doing morning pages or responding to journal prompts to get started. But ultimately, being crystal clear about your project choice will give you direction, momentum, and purpose. Working on multiple projects at once (aka project stacking or layering) is an advanced skill, in my opinion. So save that for later if you’re working on strengthening your writing habit right now.
  7. Just do the writing. We called our group the "Just Do The Writing Accountability Circle" in the past. The reason we say “just do the writing” is that it really is the right solution in most cases. Thinking about writing, talking about writing, avoiding writing, and otherwise dithering about writing usually doesn’t fix whatever the problem is, whereas writing usually does. I say usually, because sometimes there are creative wounds that need healing, and sometimes we need to write about the writing to find out what’s going on with the work, but interestingly the way through both those things is still writing. So just do the writing and you’ll be in good shape. :) (And if you need help with a creative wound, I'm here to help.) 

Where are you with your writing right now? Is it getting to be time to step it up a notch? Are you phoning it in? What on this list inspires you most to make a change?

Tell us in the comments so we can celebrate with you and help you keep your word to yourself.

bored

Bored with your writing project? Or terrified to face it?

One of the cleverest smokescreens in writing is creative apathy.

This is the point with a project where you suddenly get bored or lose interest in your writing. It tends to crop up at key stages in your writing project, like midway through or even just shy of the end.

When you hit it, you’ll start thinking maybe you’re just not that interested in this project and maybe it’s time to move on to something else.

But is that your highest truth?

I call creative apathy a smokescreen because it tricks you into thinking you’ve lost interest. It obscures the fact that you’ve encountered resistance to your project. It sends you off on a tangent, looking for other projects, wondering why you’ve lost interest, thinking maybe you never should have picked the project in the first place.

In my experience working with writers this creative apathy usually comes up as a response to either fear or creative burnout. The latter, creative burnout, comes about from pushing ourselves too hard or too long and becoming creatively exhausted. The former, fear, happens when we bump up against the places in our writing where we feel uncomfortable.

This fear could be as simple as being afraid to do the hard work, not knowing what comes next, or not knowing how to solve a story problem. It can be triggered by not having enough information about how to proceed with a task.

The fear can also arise from beliefs about your ability and talent, like a belief you should already know exactly how to do something before you even try.

I find that many, many writers hold this idea that writing should come naturally. That it should be easy, and that if it isn’t, it is a matter of a lack of talent or ability.

Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success*, suggests that this belief demonstrates a “fixed mindset” – that we have everything we are capable of having from birth, that we cannot improve or increase our skills, etc. She contrasts this with a “growth mindset”, which says that we are capable of more if we focus on learning and applying ourselves.

I was struck by this comment she made:

“People are all born with a love of learning, but the fixed mindset can undo it. Think of a time you were enjoying something – doing a crossword puzzle, playing a sport, learning a new dance. Then it became hard and you wanted out. Maybe you suddenly felt tired, dizzy, bored, or hungry. Next time this happens, don’t fool yourself. It’s the fixed mindset. Put yourself in a growth mindset. Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn. Keep on going.”

What if the next time you feel bored with a project, you consider the possibility that fear is coming up and sending you into a fixed mindset place – the very opposite of creativity – and instead choose to believe that you are capable of solving whatever problem you’re avoiding, even if it means getting help, brainstorming longer, or doing research to help you tackle it?

In other words, what if you adopted a perspective that said, “I can do this, somehow, even if I can’t see how yet“?

Perhaps it helps to also hold the belief that if you conceived of the project, you are also capable of seeing it through.

Your turn

Do you fall for creative apathy or forge through it? What’s your approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

 

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A spotlight life purpose or a spotlight gift marking — what’s the difference?

With all the conversation I’ve been having lately with clients around being called to spotlight — and usually feeling darned reluctant about it (if this is you, better read to the end of this) — one question keeps coming up:

What’s the difference between having a spotlight Life Purpose marking and a spotlight Gift Marking?

Let me explain.

In hand analysis terms, there two primary markings that show you have a “call to the spotlight” — meaning that you must express yourself to your audience and receive their applause, approval, and appreciation in exchange for sharing your work with them: a Star of Apollo gift marking and a Right Apollo Life Purpose.

Star of Apollo Gift Marking

The first is the Star of Apollo gift marking — a small asterisk on your palm on either hand, right below your ring finger — that tells us you have a gift for “Fame and Fortune in the Arts,” or being paid and being seen for your artistic expression.

With an Apollo Star, if you aren’t doing your spotlight work, the Universe has something to say about that and gives you a good swift kick in the butt in the form of “tomato fears” —  aka creative apathy, creative confusion, and creative blocks.

The solution? Do your spotlight work.

Right Apollo Life Purpose

The second is a “Creative Expression in the Spotlight” Life Purpose marking — a high ranking finger print on your right ring finger — meaning that in order to fulfill your life purpose, you must creatively express yourself to your audience.

With a life purpose marking, it is a required part of your life purpose fulfillment.

In other words, you won’t feel satisfied and you won’t have fulfilled your life purpose until or unless you have an audience to whom you are expressing yourself creatively. People with an Apollo purpose MAY have challenges with tomato fears if they are not pursuing their life purpose and/or are falling into their life lesson.

The solution? Do your spotlight work.

The bottom line

They both matter.

They both count.

Gift markings can go away IF you do “enough” of the work.

Life purpose markings NEVER, ever change.

Therefore, in some ways, you can say that a life purpose calling is more powerful because you will never feel fulfilled until you are expressing to your audience.

On the other hand, the gift marking has a certain kind of urgency to it too — don’t do it, and pay the price. In some ways it’s harder for people who have it as a gift marking than it is for people who have it as a purpose marking because of the penalty.

If you are called to the spotlight and you aren’t doing it, you are going to feel unfulfilled, stuck, confused, spinning in circles, lost, and apathetic.

At the end of the day, one way or another, you need to do your spotlight work.

If you want to summon your courage and step into YOUR spotlight, join my upcoming Spotlight Study Group, where we’ll have a safe, sensitive-friendly, small, intimate coaching group to clear up the fears, doubts, old wounds, and other obstacles to claiming your place in front of your audience — where you belong. Starts May 1. Early registration ends Sunday, April 15th. Details are here.

 

How to spot the smokescreens that stop you from writing

To celebrate the start of the next session of my Writer’s Circle this coming Monday, I’m sharing a free four-part series on How to Find the Courage to Share the Stories You Are Longing To Tell.”

Our series continues with Part 2: “How to Spot the Stealthy Smokescreens that Stop You From Writing.”

To read yesterday’s post, “Why It Requires Courage to Write”, click here.

How to spot the stealthy smokescreens that stop you from writing

If you’re longing to write, but not doing it, you’re probably doing a number of other things instead. I think of these as “smokescreens”, because very often we don’t realize that we are fooling ourselves about why we are not writing — our fear. Our smokescreens mask that raw, naked fear and keep us busy thinking something else is going on.

Most people who say they want to write but aren’t doing it are usually instead:

  1. Retreating into fantasy.

    When you’re retreating into fantasy instead of writing, you’ll notice yourself dreaming about the day when you finally have enough time to write.

    You’ll usually have a story about needing to deal with something else first, like: Making more money, getting enough childcare, getting the house clean, finishing that other big project, just getting through this one rough patch in life, etc., but the truth is that there is nothing stopping you from writing right now.

  2. Procrastinating.

    If you’re graduated from fantasy land about writing someday, but still not writing, you’ve probably moved on to procrastination or one of the other tricky smokescreens below.

    Procrastination turns up when you’ve made the time to write, but when it comes time to do it, your bathroom suddenly looks really dirty or you realize you are massively behind on [your email, your laundry, your sex life, your book keeping, your fill-in-an-excuse-here].

    I’ve seen some writers say that procrastination is a good thing — that we’re allowing our creative ideas to build up before they come bursting out of us — but I read procrastination as fear, often wrapped up with perfectionism.

  3. Feeling apathetic.

    Apathy rears it’s ugly head and tells us that we don’t care. It sounds like, “I mean, what’s the point? I don’t even FEEL like writing today. I’d much rather watch Castle or catch up on polishing my silver. Writing isn’t that important.”

    ANNNH. Wrong answer.

    What’s really going on here is again, you guessed it, fear. This is fear masquerading as apathy, only it’s so tricky it’s got you believing you aren’t even interested. Think again.

  4. Wandering in a fog of creative confusion.

    Creative confusion is the stealthy partner creative apathy. Creative confusion keeps us spinning in circles, telling us that we don’t know what to write. It keeps you vacillating between having too many ideas and not knowing where to start.

    The antidote for creative confusion is often brainstorming, putting ANY words on the page, asking yourself a great question (“What do I really want to say here?”) or simply picking a project to start with. Sometimes we just make it too complicated, again because we’re letting our fear get the better of us.

Takeaways

Here’s what I want you to take away from this: When you are fantasizing about writing, procrastinating about writing, or feeling apathetic or creatively confused about writing, you are operating out of fear. It might not LOOK like far, but the odds are high that it’s fear running the show.

But because you know this now, you have the chance to bust that fear wide open and move past it.

“Ah ha! You can’t fool me,” you will say to your fear and self-doubt. “I see you, and I know you are trying to stop me… but it won’t work.”

Then coax yourself to the page, and start writing. ANYTHING. Seriously. Because the antidote to any of these creative smokescreens is ACTION.

Your turn

What does this illuminate for you? Share your responses in the comments.

And stay tuned for the next post in this series coming your way tomorrow, “How to Find Your True Stories.” Watch for it on the blog or subscribe here.

About the Writer’s Circle

I inspire writers to find the courage to share the stories they are secretly longing to tell but are afraid won’t be heard or accepted. If you’d like company on your writer’s journey, I want to invite you to join the next session of my “Just Do The Writing” Accountability Circle, which starts this coming Monday, February 20th. In the Writer’s Circle, you’ll find the peer support and accountability you need to bust yourself on the smokescreens and obstacles you’re creating around your writing and get your words on the page. Registration closes THIS THURSDAY, February 16th.

Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

“Good if you want to write more and make fewer excuses not to write.”

“I loved leaving and getting comments on the daily progress. It made me write almost every day! Now, I’m writing more consistently and I’m feeling good about all of it. I like getting to know the other participants. I’m feeling consistently creative. This Writer’s Circle is good if you want to write more and make fewer excuses not to write. It’s so easy to talk oneself into not doing something creative and instead doing something mundane.”
~ Giulietta Nardone, Inspirational rebel, Writer and Karaoke singer, www.giuliettathemuse.com