Sunday, September 2, 2012

Keeping Up With Lost Time

The first reading that I assigned for my Monday / Wednesday sections of ENG 100 is an excerpt from a book titled, Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now. My hope is that it will offer some practical advice about how to avoid avoiding things. I know that just getting started can be the hardest part of writing. This is especially true for writers who are not particularly confident in their skills, but it happens to all of us.

When I need to get some writing done, I have a few little tricks, though I wouldn't recommend all of them. My worst trick is to reward myself with a snack after each paragraph I finish. That leads to a lot of unwanted calories. I'm trying to get away from that. This summer, I bought a 90-year old baby grand piano. My new plan is to reward myself with brief intervals of piano time after completing a paragraph or 2. The new plan could be dangerous, though--it's easy to lose track of time when playing an instrument. I'd play for 12 hours a day if I had nothing else to do (or if I wasn't afraid of annoying my fiancé with my amateurism.)

(antique piano, new bench, geriatric dog)

My other trick is to change locations. I'll write a little bit at home, then maybe go to a cafe and do a little more writing. Then maybe a library before heading back home. Changing the scenery somehow helps me renew my mental energy. Getting out of the house also helps keep me away from certain distractions (food, piano, TV).

The most challenging thing to deal with is the Internet, because we all almost always write on computers, and it's so easy to click away from Word and over to Facebook or YouTube or Zappos or whatever. (I spent nearly $200 on new running shoes and Doc Martens yesterday. Yikes.) I used to write in notebooks, and I know some folks disable their WiFi to stay on task. Do what you got to do, I guess.

This summer I did a good deal of procrastinating (never updated my blog, for example), but I also was fairly productive. I managed to put together a decent draft of a manuscript for first-semester college writers, which I hope my students will find useful. They seemed happy to be getting a free "textbook," but I hope its freeness is not its only good quality.

At some point in my life, I developed a really strong aversion to the phrase "killing time." It sounds so morbid and sad to me. We only have a finite amount of time as living beings--why would we want to kill any of our time? Thinking of procrastination as a kind of partial suicide -- as a wasting of our limited chances to do meaningful things with our life -- can be a strong deterrent. Getting it done today opens up possibilities for life tomorrow.

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