Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Quit Making Excuses! (is what I should say to myself more often...)

For obvious reasons I've been thinking about New Year's resolutions lately.  There are a lot of things I'd like to do, e.g. exercise more (more than none isn't *so* much), quit drinking soda (for real this time), be more considerate (actually send the thank-you notes for once), and so on.  But , if I'm being perfectly honest, the biggest thing I need to change about myself this year is my terrible habit of procrastinating.  Simply put, I have a serious lack of internal motivation, and I'm really good at making excuses for why I should put something off instead of just getting it done.

For some people, the discomfort of knowing there's work to do is enough to spur them into action (this is totally true of Katherine), but that doesn't really work for me.  I can't tell you how many times I put off writing 30-50 page research papers in grad school until a few days before they were due.  If it were a paper less than 20 pages, I wouldn't even think about starting it until the night before.  Or, I'd think about it, I'd do a little research here and there, I'd stress out about the fact that it had to be written, and then I'd promptly start the new Tess Gerritsen novel, or find an old tv series on Hulu that I hadn't seen in years (I'm lucky I didn't fail out of my program that time I discovered all four seasons of Doogie Howser M.D. was available).

So, generally the semester would start out like this:

But end up more like this by the time finals rolled around:

I think it's actually sort of a blessing and a curse that I still managed to do really well in school.  If I'd gotten a bad paper grade or failed a midterm, I may have been motivated to try a little harder. 

That's the other side of the coin.  It would be a lot easier if I just didn't care, but I actually do feel a lot of pressure to succeed at whatever I try.  I can't say that I always do, and that's okay, but failing is a lot harder if you know you could have done more to succeed.  I also hate to disappoint people, and that may be the biggest reason that being part of a writing team works for me.  If I'm accountable to a co-author, I can make all the excuses I want to myself, but I definitely can't do that when Kate is waiting for me to finish a chapter so she can start the next one.  If I mess up, it throws us both off, and that's exactly the kind of external motivation I rely on to get things done.

So, to make a long story short (and because I have a doe-eyed four-year-old staring at me as she waits "patiently" for me to turn Brave on for her), I'll end on this--if you want to be a writer, if you're really serious about making it your career, then you have to stop making excuses and just get it done.  Write something.  Write every day, whether it's a novel, a blog post (check), or a journal entry that only you'll ever read.  Find whatever motivates you, whether that means rewarding yourself ("500 more words and I get a cookie!"), or asking someone else to make you accountable (I once had a deal with another graduate assistant that we'd owe the other $20 if neither of us made a start on our research proposals by the following Monday).  Whatever works for you, do it, and then do *something*.

Dorothy Parker once said, "I hate writing, but I love having written," and it's so true.  I promise, even if it feels like pulling teeth to sit down and get started, you'll feel really good once you've finished.



  1. Procrastination makes me crazy. CRAZY! Really, it's amazing we can work together at all considering how our work styles in general are so different.

  2. That was a really great post. May the memory of it nag me every day in 2013... in a good way, of course!

    1. Thanks! I'm sure I'll be posting on the subject throughout the year just to remind myself. :)

  3. That was a really great post. May the memory of it nag me every day in 2013... in a good way, of course!


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