It is time to drag myself back to my true passions: writing and running.
My personal approaches are:
Writing: Write something every day even if it is nonsense. My aim is to write at least 500 words. I confess that I have lapsed recently.
Running: On at least five days each week, get yourself outside your front door in your running kit. Ensure that you are adequately stretched. Run!
Now read the article.
On a frosty February morning in the mountains of the Pyrenees, I wanted to share with you my response to a question about procrastination that a student asked this week.
‘How can I make myself sit down and write? I try and try, but each time I end up tidying my desk, or making another cup of tea, or surfing Facebook. It’s really soul-destroying.’
Procrastination, I know that one. Between deciding to respond to you Sarah, and sitting down to do it, I’ve had a second round of breakfast, sowed a button on a blouse, checked the news headlines (again), and been very attentive to the cat.
But seriously, if the resistance is very strong, sitting down at the desk, and writing is not something that we always just decide to do, as you discovered. If it was, each time we re-made the decision, we’d succeed, but we don’t, do we? Speaking personally, I’ve had times when I felt nauseous and dizzy at the thought of writing, and had to lie down instead. Really physical. Not something we can just talk ourselves out of.
In fact, and this may surprise you, I don’t think there’s a problem at all with your procrastination, with the fact that you’re not sitting down and doing it. I think it’s rather beautiful, and exactly what needs to be happening in that moment. That may not be what you want to hear, given the little voice inside that tells you ‘should’ be writing, but bear with me…
I’m assuming that you’ve made a clear intention, with the whole of your being- body, mind, emotions, to write? (How we make that intention in the most helpful way is for another conversation.) If so, then trust that your whole organism is orienting you towards that outcome, even if, in that frustrated moment of making the sixth cup of coffee, it doesn’t look how you hoped it would.
Human animals function like this: we make contact with a task, and focus/concentrate on it until we’re tired, or for some reason our system is overwhelmed, then we naturally move our attention to something else. The something else will usually be sensory (colour, smell, taste etc.) Contact with the senses steadies us, grounds us, and brings our nervous system back to equilibrium. It will probably also involve physical movement, in order to release pent up energy in our nervous system.
Take note of the things you go to instead of what you ‘should’ be doing. The smell and taste of hot drinks. The feel of your desk top as you tidy it. Walking around. Physical and sensory. Now isn’t that just perfect!
You’ve much more chance of coming back to the writing, if you allow that natural oscillation between contact and non-contact with the task.
And you will come back. You will be taken there despite yourself. Because we need to tell stories, and keep telling them, to survive and to thrive.
Unfortunately, we are trained from the beginning of creative writing learning to try and ignore an unfolding, organic route to realising the natural storyteller, in favour of controlling the process with thoughts. Then, when (quelle surprise) something doesn’t work on the page, we cross out the offending words and replacing them with ‘better’ ones. That’s akin to covering signs of disease with a band aid, and hoping it goes away.
If you resist the path that your whole organism has chosen for you, in favour of trying to control the process with your thinking mind, you’re less likely to get there, and if you do you’ll be exhausted by the time you arrive.
Time to choose a different approach, and take a leap of faith, don’t you think?
This is what I suggest. That you hold your intention to write lightly, and place most, if not all of your focus on enjoying the present moment process.
Watch the beauty of the pendulation, feel how your body experiences activation and then discharges energy to relaxation. Know the ebb and flow. Surf the waves of it. Allow and enjoy your indirect path. Remember you are going exactly where you need and want to go, in the way that is best for you.
If you feel yourself tighten and become anxious, with accompanying voices saying things like ‘this isn’t what I should be doing’, remind yourself that your natural storyteller can be trusted, that they are always orientating you towards telling the story that you need to tell.
You will gradually circle inwards, like a magpie turning ever decreasing rounds above a shiny object, until it descends upon it. You’ll land at your destination, with the ease of one carried on the currents. You’ll sit down to write.
What are your experiences of procrastination? Would this/ does this approach work for you? I’d be delighted to hear about your experiences, either in the comments, Facebook group, or privately via firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to receive the writing prompt that accompanies this article, sign up for the Monthly Newsletter.
And thank you Sarah, for permission to share our discussion.