Monthly Archives: August 2015

Time Thief

“Procrastination is the thief of time.” Edward Young, 18th Century British Poet

What kind of distractions would an early 18th century writer find to keep them from putting pen to paper? The evenings of the well-to-do would be full of parties, dances, the theater, or games. By day, they might visit friends, travel abroad, or refurbish their homes. The impoverished would, of course, be more worried about day-to-day survival: earning enough to pay for food, clothing, and shelter. Though we might consider the 1700s to be a simpler time with fewer distractions, that wasn’t the case. The dreaded time thief procrastination could be just as much a problem then as it is today.

In the early 21st century, modern authors have the added distraction of being able to use the internet to access a world’s worth of information spanning the history of the human race from the comfort of their own home. We have TV shows, movies, video games, etc. Plus, we still have the same distractions as our 18th century counterparts to go along with all the newer ones.

Why has procrastination been such an issue for writers?

This article in The Atlantic from February of 2014 discusses why authors are the worst procrastinators. The one that resonates most with me is imposter syndrome – or the fear of being unmasked as a fraud. Even when I’ve done what I feel is my best writing, I often think my work is not up to the standards of the truly great writers. Doing everything but getting my words down on paper gives me an excuse not to risk embarrassing exposure as an imposter. If I don’t write, I won’t be embarrassed.

Yet I can’t not write. When I watch TV or a movie, read a book, do housework or whatever else I might be doing instead of writing I’m always thinking about current or future WIPs. If my mind can’t give up the idea of writing, why can’t I sit down and work? Wouldn’t that be easier than stressing about what I want to (or should) do?

Did poet Edward Young write about the time thief all those many years ago because he suffered from the same problem? Was his education a form of procrastination? Or did he avoid putting pen to paper by dancing or game playing? I’d love to know what issues might have prevented him from getting down to work and to learn what means he used to get around them.

My chosen form of procrastination at the moment is writing this blog post instead of working on my current project. Is reading this yours?

Time for us to lock away that horrible time thief and get down to the real business at hand. How else will someone from the early 24th century wonder what we did in order to settle down to write?

The Comfort Zone

We all tend to fall into the comfort zone where we do the same things at the same time in the same way. We may do this because we’re busy and it’s the easiest way to complete tasks on a deadline or we might just be too tired from our day-to-day routine to change things up. Whatever the reason, the comfort zone is a, well, comforting place to be. The problem is that doing the same things over and over and over again can stifle creativity by settling our thoughts into a groove they have trouble escaping. The longer we spend stuck in the rut the harder it can be to climb out. What can be done?

The easiest way to break out of a strict routine is one step at a time. If you drive the same direction to work every morning, turn left instead of right and see where you end up. Try reading a book in a genre you haven’t yet tried; if possible, try reading one in a non-native language. You might even try sleeping on the opposite side of the bed than normal. One little change can open the mind up to all kinds of new possibilities.

Over the years, I’ve done a few things I never imagined I could and each has led me to learn something new about myself and the greater world. Despite my shyness, I ran for a local political office and learned I could survive interviews in a variety of media without too much humiliation. Entering a series of 5k races despite my childhood aversion to exercise taught me I could run farther and faster than I’d thought possible (though I’m still working on finishing without walk breaks). Taking on day jobs that I thought were beyond my skill level got me promoted to a professional position I never imagined holding…and one that I’m lucky enough to love.

This Lifehack article by Karla Jennings has some great insight into some of the small steps that can be taken to escape the comfort zone. Seeking out new information is a great one, especially for those of us who write, as is turning off the TV to read (though I think that watching TV as a group activity can inspire interesting discussions which can lead to learning new things about the people we know). Facing fear is a major factor in breaking out of a rut since we tend to stay in the places we know because we’re afraid of what might happen if we end up in an unfamiliar situation.

I’m in the midst of taking steps to get out of my current comfort zone by reading outside my favorite genres to find out what the expanded experience brings to my own writing. Not only have I been stuck reading in the genres I love, I’ve been re-reading the same books over and over and over again. This is great when I need to unwind without thinking too much but doesn’t stir up my creative juices. The books I’ve started reading have already opened up vistas I hadn’t imagined and I’m excited to continue exploring them.

Take a small step out of your own comfort zone. You may be surprised where you end up.

The Comfort Zone
Escaping the Comfort Zone