THE FINE ART OF CREATING DIVERSIONS

IMG_3177Lost In My Mind by Head and the Heart (click to play song)

Procrastination… the very word immobilizes. Or perhaps it simply ignites creativity, diverting attention from the task at hand. As incorrigible jamjobbers, we procrastinators attempt to cram a little bit of everything into each day, enjoying the interesting activities and avoiding the difficult chores. Perhaps because of the belief – however misguided – that our best work is done under pressure, we take the tedious jobs down to the wire. And quite possibly some of us have a slight perfectionist neurosis that begets the intense need to establish the ideal setting in which to do our work – before any work can be done. Dillydalliers like myself possess the annoyingly delightful talent for devising captivating distractions.

Most of the disturbances that sidetrack my writing career are self-inflicted. It helps to remind this procrastinating author that Ernest Hemingway sequestered himself in a dank little hole in the wall when he had all of Paris beckoning, and J.K. Rowling began the Harry Potter saga in relative poverty. On the flipside, I am envious of my writing friend who has been living a lovely, inspired life in Provence (sunflowersandshutters.com). Yet even she admits to struggles in finding time to write, just as I do languishing away here in suburbia. The message is obvious: it’s not about the place or the setting… it’s
about the driving force. All that is needed is the dream, the motivation, and the stick-to-it-ness to accomplish our goals, be they writing a novel, fabricating the next great invention, assembling family photos for posterity, or solving the global warming dilemma. There is good deal of discipline involved in this JOB of writing, and the procrastinator in me is disturbed by my lack of focus, feeling like a dusty little moth banging around the lampshades in the dark, seeking that flicker of light to settle upon. It’s time for an intervention Five-Step Procrastinator’s Program to save my job as a writer.

Step 1 – Change the way of thinking about writing from a fun diversion to a vital constant. This alone could take years to crystallize. They say it takes 21 days to become entrenched in a habit, but this regimen could be a never-ending challenge in my book of life.

Step 2 – Determine the time commitment to writing. Knowing this project requires at least three hours a day is one thing, but finding and making the time that fits my lifestyle is tricky. Hearing about authors who have written their novels in the wee hours of the morning, the darkness of the night, or after a full day of work, I am shamed that I can’t seem to carve out three measly hours in a bright shiny day. At the risk of sounding like a shallow slacker, I will not divulge the frivolous time constraints of my daily routine. Suffice it to say that mornings are busy and afternoons are less creative. And I am trying to practice what I preach to get that full eight hours of sleep (reference The Cure post), so those sublime midnight hours are not an option. After much consideration, I decided to split the difference by click-clacking away in seclusion for the first ninety minutes of my day and then jumping back into it for ninety minutes mid-afternoon. I can roll with that compromise, and it seemed to be chugging along just dandy until my little train derailed several months ago.

IMG_2942Step 3 – Set up the workspace. I’m a bit of a neat freak – clutter frazzles my mind – and yet my desk in the command center of the house often becomes a dumping ground, fraught with a myriad of distractions. The backseat of my car would be a more suitable place to pen that novel, even amidst the dog hairs, canvas grocery sacks, and go-backs. Just lock me away in a windowless gray box and let the colors of my mind light up the walls and fill the blank pages of my imaginary book. Eureka – my son’s bedroom has been in a state of flux since he left for college seven years ago. What better place to contain my own transitions? Before Mac moved out, he painted the walls a soothing shade of gray-blue at my request. Then we hauled out his beat-up sticker-encrusted desk that bore the brunt of his homework angst and brought in a large square waist-high project table, big enough to organize a hodgepodge of undertakings. Mac’s room morphed into The Project Room when it became apparent that my fiercely independent son would never move back home, and I filled his shelves with my paraphernalia. A few months ago I rearranged the photos in the room, clearing the entire wall behind the project table for grandiose plans: the timeline for my novel, the visual organization of my plot and subplots, the backdrop for my characters’ development. Lofty, yes. But here is where the persnickety procrastinator rears her wily head. I can’t just stick things on the lofty wall. And I don’t want just any old bulletin board. No, I have to re-create the swell wine cork wall featured in Sunset magazine and Pinterest (yet another captivating distraction). Oh, and I can’t possibly concentrate on writing with that pile of boxes under the table, which contain my half-finished scrapbook of last summer’s European family vacation. Oh for gods sakes. Projects are undermining the life of my book.

Step 4 – Prioritize activities and make time for the top of the list on down. In addition to being a neat freak, I’m a bit of an organization nut with a love of calendars and to-do lists, admittedly sometimes spending more time organizing than actually doing. This should be the easiest step of all – a matter of scheduling my days, plugging in the writing first and fitting in everything else around it. To be sure, I will pencil in plenty of time interlaced with the writing to share morning coffee and evening wine with Tony, watch Downton Abby with Haley, phone converse with Mac on his way home from work, live vicariously through my college coed Sammi, hike with my dogs, get lost reading books, tend to my sprawling garden, hone my struggling golf game, recharge body and soul with yoga, volunteer my services, and make merry with friends and family. Mercy. There may not be any time remaining for the necessary chores, but my priorities are certainly aligned.

Step 5 – Be accountable. Until I reach that author’s state of nirvana with an agent and a publisher hounding me for my manuscript when the deadline has past, there is no boss to dispense a performance review, no time clock to punch. It is entirely up to me, myself and my dodgy self-discipline. Perhaps Coach Haertl needs to blow the whistle on me when I run afoul of the game rules. Or I could employ a couple of time management apps like macfreedom.com that would lock me out of the internet for a specified block of time to prevent cyber distractions. Better yet, I have found that the least intrusive solution is simply to set a timer to remind me to stick to the program. Since I tend to get thoroughly immersed in a project and lose all track of time, the chirping crickets and Tibetan gongs gently prod me on to the next diversion on the daily agenda.

Fortunately, most procrastinating distractions are of our own making. When Tony and I agreed to open our outdoor home for the local fundraising Garden Tour in May, I buried myself alive with gardening chores for the five weeks beforehand, with nary a written word much less a blog or chapter penned. By the time the Garden Tour was successfully finished, I was eager for a lockdown at my writing desk.

But every once in a while those unexpected twists of fate occur that divert us from our best-laid plans. Two days after the Garden Tour, our son was in a dreadful car accident in Mobile, Alabama – 771 miles away from his Chicago home and 1,991 miles away from our home. We flew him back here after six days in the hospital for what became a two-month recuperation. This twist-of-fate diversion effectively immobilized my writing endeavors as my priorities list drastically shuffled into survival mode. Caregiving and nurturing my son, I was saturated – near drowning – with gratitude. The predominant item on my to-do list was simply making the most of this blessing-in-disguise by spending every precious moment with him, knowing that the writing career could wait while my son finally moved home, if only to temporarily convalesce in The Project Room. At any given moment, a rousing game of gin rummy with Mac was my #1 to-do.

Take heart, fellow jamjobbers. Procrastination is merely the fluidly shifting act of prioritizing.

 

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Belinda G
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 21:14:44

    Hi Jana, As always it was a treat to get you post! Keep writing. B

    Reply

    • janahaertl
      Jul 28, 2013 @ 21:56:17

      Thanks so much for your encouraging nudge, Belinda! One of our Booko buddies sent this quote to me that I just have to pass on…

      “The most sacred place dwells within our heart, where dreams are born and secrets sleep, a mystical refuge of darkness and light, fear and conquest, adventure and discovery, challenge and transformation. Our heart speaks for our soul every moment while we are alive. Listen….as the whispering beat repeats: be…gin, be…gin, be…gin. It’s really that simple. Just begin…again.” – Anthony Robbins.

      That’s really all we can do – just keep at it!

      Reply

  2. Tom Raney
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 03:25:43

    I am certain I am speaking for many in your brood, but great to have you back. But sometimes, not writing is as therapeutic as writing. Go with your heart, head and gut. If that fails, go for a glass of wine. Just know that you and your efforts are appreciated.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Reply

  3. Laurie Kelley
    Jul 23, 2013 @ 14:49:03

    Jana, I so enjoy reading your passages. There are times when I feel I’m reading about my life! Ha. Sorry to hear about Mac’s accident but so relieved to hear he is doing better and home under your nurturing hand. Keep up the writing:) Laurie

    Reply

    • janahaertl
      Jul 28, 2013 @ 22:04:11

      Really great to hear from you Laurie… I miss you and all our Northwest friends! So glad you can relate to my little stories… we’re surely all in this together 🙂 Thanks for your well wishes and encouragement… back at you! xoxo

      Reply

  4. teri smyth
    Jul 23, 2013 @ 21:56:44

    Yes. I have to admit I missed your blogs.
    I too have a food blog that I aspire to write each and every day. Somehow, my procrastination kicks in and I find myself saying “I’ll get to it tomorrow.” Then tomorrow comes and I find another obstacle get’s in the way of pursuing my dreams. Mom’s put everyone else first for so long that we sometimes can’t remember what things are important to us.

    I am sorry to hear about your son, but it sounds like he is on his way to recovery.
    Good thing you are free to be there for him.

    I too had ankle surgery 2 weeks ago to remove scar tissue from an old dance injury. Convalescing is definitely no fun, but necessary.
    Glad to hear from you again.

    Teri:)

    Reply

    • janahaertl
      Jul 28, 2013 @ 22:19:10

      I love your fun recipes, Teri! Love the name of your blog too… letsmakemudpies.blogspot.com 🙂 Let’s both keep pushing ourselves to write write write… and cook cook cook!

      Reply

  5. Linda Baer
    Jul 30, 2013 @ 01:58:45

    As Angie would say, ” Respect my heart, my inner teacher”….it’s always what’s right in front of us that blinds us, and we eventually see…..your priority is your inspiration. ( Missed your “heart”, but patient.) :~) thank you, jana…..linda baer.

    Reply

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