Thursday, August 2, 2012

Backhanding Procrastination

Us creative folk are the masters of procrastination (perhaps second only to our government figureheads). We’ve got it down to a form of art, which is cool and all, but not really.

So how do we conquer this irritating part of ourselves? You might have seen advice of “stop thinking about it and just do it” or “write everyday”, but maybe it feels like sea legs when you’re trying to apply those suggestions – as in, it’s really hard to find proper balance.

This is okay. You’re not alone in this struggle, and the last thing you should think is “I’ll never be able to—” because you can. The tips below are things that have worked for me and others, so give them a shot for yourself:

Set goals
Before you begin, decide exactly how many words you’re going to write or panels you’re going to sketch. Make your goal realistic, obtainable, but also challenging. If you think you have enough wherewithal to write 1000 words for the day, then set the goal at 1,500. Don’t think of your word count as numbers on a scale to agonize over – think of it as how many miles you ran.

Prepare ahead
Organize all your thoughts beforehand. Outlines are perfect for this, whether you’re a super-detailed outliner or not an outliner at all. Jot down simple notes, even if they’re as vague as, “Protag goes for a run. Protag finds out about a special power. Protag leaps skyscrapers. Protag hits head off a commercial jetliner.” This will help you visualize, and most importantly, it won’t let you get to the point of, “Golly gee, I don’t know what comes next, I guess I’ll go on tumblr and think about it.”

Because you might go onto tumblr and never come out again.

Get yourself in the mood
This works in all contexts. But really, before I write, I listen to the right music I need (and it’s usually super epic music, too). Before I draw, I browse artist websites like Deviantart. It helps get my momentum going even before I begin.

Be your own peer pressure
This can actually be where social media websites come in handy: tell a writing or drawing buddy, or the whole twitterverse or tumblrverse or facebook community, that you’re going to be working on your creative project(s). If you’ve got no-BS friends, then as soon as you sneak on, they’ll slap some sense back into you and command you go back to work.

Or, even if you don’t, you at least have that marker there to remind you that you need to be working, like putting up a fence around a playground. You can still get in, but you have to climb over.

Orchestrate sprints
My lovely friend Anna will set ten-to-fifteen minute sprints, where she focuses everything into writing and doesn’t stop until that last minute is up. Then, it’s a good idea to stop for a breather before doing another sprint. Breather, then sprint. Over and over. She might do this until she gets to her word count goal, or explodes.

Create in your comfort zone
Us creative individuals pull from a deep part of the soul, which leaves us incredibly vulnerable. If we’re not in a place where we feel comfortable and protected, it might be difficult to allow ourselves to open up. I, personally, have to write in a “cave”, which is usually a smaller room with an arched ceiling, and I have to be near the window. It’s got to be brightly lit and properly ventilated.

But not everyone has a place like this. If you’re one of those, find a coffee shop or an internet café where you can tuck yourself into a quiet corner, stick your earphones in, and turn off the rest of the world. I’ve had to do this too, and it took a while to get used to, but it was either that or something along the lines of exploding like Anna.

Like any muscle, if you don’t use it, it atrophies. The more you pull on your creative strings, the easier it gets. If you let yourself fall out of the habit of writing or drawing every day, then you’re going to find it much more difficult to jump right back into a regular pattern. If you’re at this point, take baby steps. Start at a reasonable point and build yourself up to where you want to be.

Know your limits
As I’ve mentioned in this post, pushing yourself too hard can backfire. If this happens, take a break, do something else, come back later. The last thing you want to do is associate negative feelings with writing or drawing or whatever your art is. It’s supposed to be what you love to do, so do it because you can’t not do it.

Reward yourself
Did you make your goals? Complete your sprints? Got a good daily routine going? Then treat yourself to ice-cream or a Game of Thrones marathon or, heck, aimless tumblr surfing. Positive reinforcement keeps your morale high and your creative juices constantly churning. It’s also good for your heart health, or something, and that’s very important too.

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