Earlier this month when I went to hear Chris Edgar talk about his book, Inner Productivity, he said something that struck home for me… uncomfortably. He was talking about procrastination, and he said it is often on our most important projects – the ones with the most pressing deadlines, and sometimes even the ones about which we feel most passionate – that we find ourselves perfecting the art of procrastination. (Okay, those are my words, not his. He probably wouldn’t call it an art, but I know the truth.)
“Why is that?” he asked, “because you’d think it would be then, when the stakes and potential gains are highest, that we would buckle down and do the work that needs to be done, but we don’t.” (I have to say, I liked his use of the word we. It was reassuring given the message was starting to feel like one tailor-made for me.) Inwardly, I nodded, I sat up, I listened. “Yes, why?” I cried (only not aloud).
He said there are a lot of reasons, and he named quite a few, but the arrow that pierced me dead center was “fear of failure.”
Because while it’s true that not writing the book, not performing the piece, not painting the picture or tackling the difficult assignment, is, in itself, a sort of failure, it is different than trying… and sucking. If you don’t try, you can tell yourself how good you would be if you did try. Maybe you have great friends who’ll back you up. “You should do it!” they’ll say, because friends are awesome that way, and you’ll love their faith in you, and as long as you don’t actually do it, you are made of the potential they see in you. You are nothing but the possibility of brilliance. (Of course, there is that other possibility – that you’ll fail miserably – but if your friends are telling you that, you need new friends.)
So sitting in the back row, all sort of hunched over and guilty, I knew Chris was talking to me even if he didn’t say it, and I knew I didn’t want to be that person who writes half a novel during Nano (because 50,000 words is only about half of a literary novel), but never goes back to write the rest. Or the kind of person who writes an entire novel, receives excellent, encouraging feedback from a publisher, and then never does the revisions he suggests. Or the person who… well, never mind. You get the picture.
So, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve gathered some writing partners who will be meeting with me weekly and monthly. We will share our goals, in some cases our writing, and we will hold each other accountable. I’m very nervous about this. And also VERY sure it’s the right thing to do.
But this isn’t a post for writers, encouraging them to get partners. Or at least, it’s not just for writers. What I’m learning is the value of setting a goal and saying it aloud. To someone. Or lots of someones, if you have a blog. I’m convinced that the thing that got me through Nano was the knowledge that you all knew what I was doing. You encouraged me, but you also (maybe without even knowing it) held me accountable. I did not want to come back and tell you I didn’t finish.
Chris Edgar has some awesome techniques for getting in the zone with your work, but for me, that comes after I make the commitment… and tell someone about it. Oh, and something else. I’m learning that the things I’m most hesitant to commit to publicly are often the things I’m the happiest to have done. (Like Nano. And this blog. And the super cool creative blog project I’ll be starting in February!)
Yeah. That was a tease.