I saw the cutest comic the other day on Mashable from Josh Mecouch of Formal Sweatpants. It was about how Trolley the Procrastination Troll easily convinces the character to blow away his entire day watching videos instead of working, and it made me think about my own procrastination when it comes to writing. I like Mecouch’s idea of giving an identity to that which pulls us away from being productive, because it creates an entity which can at some point “I hope” be tied up and gagged.
I don’t know the name of my procrastinator, but I know he/she isn’t working alone. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve anguished over losing touch with a piece and then spent more time analyzing the reasons why I think it happened. I don’t recommend doing this. It always leads to intense introspection with turns into self-deprecation and eventually depression.
Last week I completed my third residency/tutorial semester on the path to obtaining an MFA from Murray State, and it was the most productive one yet, but that is not to say there haven’t been some serious bouts with procrastination. A typical “good” writing day begins with me awaking feeling energized and ambitious about tackling whatever piece I’m working on. That feeling lasts for maybe an hour or so before my visitors arrive, causing it to flatline.
First there’s Distraction which brings in every noise imaginable and puts them all on blast. Then there’s Guilt which reminds me that I’m needed elsewhere and whatever that is is more important than what I’m presently doing. Entertainment comes along to suggest that I take a break since I’m not making much progress on what I’m supposed to be doing anyway then it holds me hostage with social media. Sometimes the order of entry changes, but the players remain the same as does their agenda – procrastination and sometimes their voices get really loud.
There’s a great section in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird that discusses how to handle the voices:
“Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in any high-maintenance parental units, drop in any contacts, lawyers, colleagues, children, anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away, trying to make you feel like shit because you won’t do what they want – wont give them more money, won’t be more successful, won’t see them more often. Then imagine that there is a volume-control button on the bottle. Turn it all the way up for a minute, and listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices. Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you. Leave it down, and get back to your shitty first draft.” (27)
I used to think my only chance at really getting any work done was solitary confinement. A room without a view (maybe even a rubber room) with no people, no pets, no music – just enough air to breathe and most importantly – no wi-fi, but I’d probably go stir crazy from all the silence. There’s nothing worse than being trapped inside your own mind – or at least mine with thoughts and ideas running amok.
Lately I’ve been dying for a vacation. My daughter keeps reminding me that we already are on vacation – our move to Tennessee has been almost a year long and already I’m eager to see something else before returning home to Texas. More than anything this move has taught me that relocating doesn’t mean escape. Problems no matter how big or small will always find you and if not, new ones will be created just to keep the balance between happiness and chaos unstable.
So now going into my thesis semester (next January) I’m focusing more on completion than innovation. I spent this semester preparing for thesis by working on a new piece and I have five chapters/stories to write before I can truly say the story has been told. I’ve been trying to focus less on what I’m writing and just trying to be the mouthpiece for whatever story my characters want to tell. It’s something I never saw myself writing, but when the characters appeared I knew they all had something to say and it was my job to help them do it. My summer (when not job hunting) will be spent taking a summer literature class at one of the Texas A&M campuses (which I’m stoked about because I like the course and the professor) and when August rolls around I’ll be working on New Madrid, a required field study course at MSU.
Since I decided to postpone my thesis residency until January it means I won’t be finishing the course with two of the special people I met when I first began this journey. I thought we’d all be there together and it kills me to know I’ll be going the last trek alone, but I can’t be happier for the two of them. Both girls, Whittney and Jayne, have had pieces published since we started which gives me hope in possibilities. I’ll forever have our special spot on the couch seared into my memory along with Whittney’s laugh and Jayne’s welcoming smile. That experience alone is enough to make me recommend an MFA program to an aspiring writer like myself. There’s just something you find there that doesn’t exist in any other place.
I haven’t tried the mason jar trick yet or hog-tied and gagged my trolls or whatever they are (I think maybe mine are pigs. Greedy little pigs), but I’m going to name them and then practice locking them up when they get too noisy in their quest to drag me down the halls of procrastination. If I put them in a mason jar I’d have to then put the jar in a desk drawer or paper bag for the whole “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” thing. Either way it’s a really good start.