So, here’s something that’s been coming up in conversation a lot lately. Self-sabotage. Psychology Today defines self-sabotage as a set of behaviors that get in the way of long-standing goals. There are a whole host of dramatic issues associated with the phrase self-sabotage, but I’m not so interested in the big ones for purposes of this post. I’m thinking about the smaller, day to day dumb-ass things we do to get in our own way. Of course, I’m thinking specifically about the writing life.
Let’s talk about the most obvious one that applies to writers, because it’s listed in a bunch of articles. My best frenemy, procrastination.
When it comes to writing, there are a whole host of activities that, to non-writers, look a lot like procrastination, but are not. Daydreaming is one of those things. When writers daydream, it is often with purpose. We are thinking about story, working out plots, hammering out world-building details, filling in what we don’t know about the characters we’re attempting to create on the page. Sometimes research can look like procrastination, because we aren’t actively producing words. We’re reading a whole bunch of stuff relevant to the themes and topics that we want whatever narrative we’re working on to address. I think the issue here is that purposeful daydreaming and purposeful reading can sometimes cross a line into procrastination. The only person who can figure out when that’s happening is the writer, because all of that activity happens in our heads. When I found myself the other day reading a bunch of articles on procrastination, I was in fact, procrastinating. I think I ended up spending an hour that I had set aside for actively producing text to reading that work. I count it as procrastination because it is not relevant to the stories I am working on right now. Although in a weird way it has resulted in some use because of this blog post. But when does procrastination cross the line from “normal thing that everyone does at least a little bit daily” to true self-sabotage?
I know I’ve crossed that line if, in a day, I have written nothing. In the day job, I have watched people create a huge amount of extra work and pointless strife for themselves for the sake of avoiding a single task that would have otherwise taken five minutes out of an eight hour shift. I don’t know what the solution is to avoiding avoidance, but it might be useful for individual authors to figure out some way to self-monitor. Word count is, for some, a useful metric. For others, it may be something else, like progress on an outline, or number of story problems solved in a brainstorming session.
My point is that as writers we need to figure out where the line is, for ourselves, and come up with a self-monitoring system that works for us. I think this is important stuff because working in creative fields requires us to be self-motivated.