Procrastination Hacks

Apr 08 2019

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Dr. Sarah Wishart

These are travellers notes which I offer myself should I again be lost. 

Trick yourself into the writing 

Set up the thing and see it and then do all you can to evade it

-Text from the photo above, excerpt from an art exhibit by Dr. Sarah Wishart as part of Undertow at Sluice Gallery, London*

I'd been longingly waiting for time to work on my book since last July, when I finished my last two residential writing retreats. Since then, teaching, directing and real life have needed my full attention, so the book has been patiently waiting on the shelf. Finally, after six months, I took the book down, blew off the dust and began my eagerly awaited four-week period of writing.

“And about time!” proclaimed my Inner Writer, rolling up her sleeves and clearing the desk in preparation to get started.

“But I'm tired!” whined my Inner Child, suddenly overcome with a desperate urge to sleep.

“No, come on, there's work to be done, no sleeping until bedtime!” demanded my Inner Slave Driver.

“Let her sleep” soothed my Inner Critic, “She needs a rest, poor thing, let her sleep, for, I don't know, how about four weeks?”

“Hey, look what I just saw on facebook!” exclaimed Distraction.

“Oooh let's have a look,” urged Unhealthy Ungrounded, “Wow, it looks like everyone's having a great life! They're all out there doing amazing things! Let's stare at all the people who are doing things a bit like us, but better, for a few hours.”

“Good idea,” agreed the Inner Critic “Look at how well everyone else is doing and here we are with this puny pathetic book, might as well go to bed.”

“Can we?” pleaded the Inner Child.

“NO!” bellowed the Slave Driver. “No sleep, no rest, no treats, no fun until this book is written.”

And so it went, for the best part of four weeks, I've been joylessly fighting my inner voices, to try and write a book about play! Oh the irony!

In amongst the overwhelmingly claustrophobic procrastination, there have been moments of respite and occasional flurries of flow. I've been managing about 3 hours writing a day. The book has found a new shape and the tone is starting to settle. I didn't get as far as I'd hoped, but I'm pleased with the direction its heading in.

I want to share some of my procrastination hacks in the hope that someone else will find a little comfort and ease. The creative process is not always easy, friends, but in my experience, it's almost always worth it!

Procrastination Hacks

1.) Do You Actually Need A Rest?

By the end of the first week, I realised that my slave-driver was pushing me to achieve unrealistic amounts of productivity. I'd just come out of a week of intense teaching which involved holding a group through deep therapeutic process for 8 hours a day. I was exhausted, but I felt like I needed to push through, to make the most of my writing time.

It can be tough to give yourself permission to rest, especially when there's time pressure, but rest allows you to approach your projects with openness and curiosity as opposed to tension and stress. I know which book I'd prefer to read!

2.) Timed Tasks + Treats

Somewhere around week two, I found my inner task mistress. Like Anita MacCallum, the creative writing teacher she's based on,** my inner task mistress is clear, disciplined and kind. She gives me defined tasks and sets an alarm for a certain amount of time, turning the internet off for the whole length of that time. We've been exploring different amounts of time and we're currently finding an hour and a half gets good results.

When the alarm goes off, I get a treat, regardless of how many words I've written or whether it's any good. Treats include: delicious snacks, refreshing drinks, having a stretch, going for a walk, sitting in the garden, connecting with a friend, having a dance. Consciously bringing nourishment into your process will only make your work richer. We do not need to suffer to be artists!

3.) Change Of Scene

Around week three, I realised I could leave the house! Hallelujah! It's tough to stay motivated when you work from home and there's always washing up and laundry to be done. A change of scene gave me new energy and perspective.

I cycled to cafes, taking in the trees in blossom, the birds tweeting in their nests, the clear blue sky and the fresh air. I am often more focussed when working in cafes, as I would feel embarrassed to be twitching at social media as often as I do at home. Plus I love people-watching / eaves-dropping. It all helps me to remember I am not alone.

4.) Dialoguing With The Voices

This is something I do when I'm totally blocked. Through dialoguing on the page, I find out what the inner parts of me are up to and which ones are freaking out. When I get to the bottom of what they're afraid of, I can offer them reassurance and invite other parts of me – such as resilience, compassion and kindness to help them to relax.

When my inner critic is triggered, I can't write. He's so afraid of me exposing my inadequacy and being ridiculed, that he would prefer me not to write at all. He seems to have a very short memory, which means we have to have the same dialogue most days.

Critic tells me my book is shit and I say “I know it's shit now, but it's not finished yet. Creativity is messy, it's all part of the process, but rest assured that what I'm writing now is not the finished product. This writing will not be published in the public realm until it's been scrutinised by a publisher, an editor and several readers.” This seems to be enough to set him at his ease for a while at least.

5.) Why Did You Want To Do This In The First Place?

At some point in week four, trying to remember why I'd taken on this battle with the inner voices, I asked myself the question: which parts of me want to write this book and why?

Generosity wants to share all that we've learned.

Compassion wants to reach out to anyone who's suffering and offer some ease, joy and connection.

The Academic wants to honour all the work she put in during the Masters and open doors for future connections / collaborations.

The Adventurer wants to invite in possibility for teaching abroad.

The Child wants to make a thing and have people enjoy it.

The Writer just wants peace and quiet to do what she loves.

It's been a tough month and I hope that when I come back to the book in June, I can remember some of this. It's certainly deepened my respect for writers and artists. Crikey! Hats off to everyone who's intent on dragging themselves to the arena. It's not easy, but create we must! It's what we were born to do.

*Photo is a fragment of a larger piece by Dr. Sarah Wishart in Undertow, a group show at the Sluice Gallery in London, which describes itself thus:

"When prevailing discourses tip towards hyperbole, generalisations or simplification, there is a need to swim against the current, to carve out a space that allows for ambiguity, correspondence and a quieter voice."

Sarah has created a series of writing prompts, which she is responding to throughout the residency.

If that resonates, it's on until the 13th April. Go and see it! Info here.

**Anita MacCallum runs creative writing courses in Bristol, under the name of Loud Word. I've been attending a 6-week course throughout this writing period. 

A small group of grown ups sits around a big table, with open notebooks and a range of pens, responding to Anita's timed tasks. At the end of each task, there's space to share and comment on each others work. Anita creates an atmosphere of fun, trust and permission that allows everyone to have a go at expressing themselves through writing. This atmosphere of light, boisterous allowance, often leads to unarmed, eloquent, surprising creative discoveries. 

If that resonates with you, check out Anita's workshops here.

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