Confronting Procrastination Head-On

So I know I’ve said it before: I’m a procrastinator. I’ve spent the last month doing all my homework at the last minute and very little for my thesis. See, I had this little plan: I’d spend every weekday morning from 9am till noon doing homework, working on my thesis and studying for my professional teaching exams. That lasted all of two weeks. When my professor told me I ought to be spending 12 hours per class a week, I got overwhelmed and quit my study plan. Then I got behind, started making youtube videos on social issues, watching youtube, hulu, netflix, etc. Let’s just say I got really behind. I was desperate and I needed a solution. So I went to talk to a counselor and here is what she suggested.

Give your laptop to your boyfriend or roommate, and ask them to hide it and not give it back until Monday morning. And that’s exactly what I did. I’ve been computerless since friday at noon, and I still have about 24 hours till I get it back. Hence, the cellphone blogging. BUT, I’ve done more homework in the past two days than I have in the last month. And really, it wasn’t as much as I thought I had to do. See, when I get bored, the only thing I have to do is homework. So if you’ve already procrastinated to the extreme, have somebody take away your biggest source of distraction— yes, you will feel like a punished child–and the only thing you will have left to do is the work.

If you’ve managed to not procrastinate too badly (or even if you have), yet another thing you can do is only do a little work at a time. For me, feeling like I have to do all of something at once, like read 30 pages of boring homework, I’ll wait and wait until I have no other choice. But if I read one section at a time over a few days, it goes by much quicker and I’m done before I realize I am.

Or, you can limit the amount of time spent doing work. If you really have a short attention span, spend 20 minutes at a task and then spend an hour doing something you want to do. Normally, I don’t like this tip, because it alone doesn’t work for me. However, it actually works really well in conjunction with me not having my laptop. I spend 30 minutes or an hour doing homework, and then I’m off the hook. Eventually I’ll get bored not doing anything, and I’ll go back to doing work without looking at the time. Then, usually I end up spending more time on my work than I intend to, thus getting it finished.

So if you are a procrastinator like me, shut down your computer and give it to somebody for a day or two. And if you can’t do that because you have a desktop– have somebody change the password. And if you need your computer to write a paper or something- write it by hand, go to a computer lab in the library, or create a user ID that only permits access to what you need. Get creative: you spent all this time researching procrastination, I’m sure you can dream up a way to prevent yourself from using the internet as a form of procrastination.

Good Luck

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Getting Motivated

One of the hardest things to overcome as a writer is a lack of motivation.  I don’t really believe in writer’s block (more on that another day).  But I do believe in extreme laziness.  So how do you push past these feelings?

Ask yourself, is this really what I want to do? Do you really want to write?  When I think about the answer to this question sometimes I want to say no.  One of my true passions is singing.  I love to sing– and if I’m not writing to process a hard time or whatever, I’m singing it out.  I’m not awful– I probably could be really good at it.  I just never really pursued anything outside of high school. I remember filling out my college application for UM, wondering if instead of checking an undecided major, I should have checked voice.  But then I’d have to go to an audition and certainly be rejected. There was too much risk in pursuing that dream.

So back to my original question: Is this what I want to do? To answer: in many ways, yes.  As much as I love to sing, I’d be content just doing it at church on Sundays.  I really don’t want to be a famous singer. (Famous writer? Now that I’m okay with)   So, I went with my number 2 passion, which is writing. I’ve gone so far as to get my master’s degree in it.  But the last thing I want to do is work on anything related to it.  The sad part is, I watch online TV all day instead of just writing what I want to write.  I don’t know why I can’t waste time doing something worthwhile.  If I’m going to do something constructive, I feel like it absolutely has to be school.

You always hear people saying: “follow your dreams.”  And in this world, you can’t always skip the boring crap and just follow your dreams.  I don’t have a trust fund that I can live off of while I start my businesses, write my novels, and move to some fancy apartment in LA while I audition for record labels.  Real life for the majority of us doesn’t work that way.

I don’t feel like writing a thesis.  I want total creative freedom over my story.  I want to write with un-yielded inspiration and passion.  Sometimes I feel like my story has been hijacked. (no offense professor.) I want ideas to come to me as I write.  That’s part of the fun.  Yet, writing a creative thesis is not like that.  I have a freaking outline for my story. I don’t even write outlines for academic papers.  I find outlines constricting and awful.  Who knows what you’ll discover while writing?

Ironically enough, I found a quote from one of my school readings that fits this situation perfectly by Donald Murray (as quoted in Composition Pedagogies by Gary Tate, Amy Rupiper and Kurt Schick):

The writer is constantly learning from the writing what it intends to say.  The writer listens for evolving meaning…The writing itself helps the writer see the subject.

I feel like my artistic creativity is being constrained and squashed into a tiny little box.

I want to be a writer but I have BILLS that must be paid.  I have to get a job to pay those bills. And in order to get a job I have to get my degree and take professional exams. And to get the master’s and pass the tests I have to do all the boring crap I don’t feel like doing.  And it goes on and on and on.   But if this is what I want to do, I have to do all the boring crap.

I have to look past all of the stuff in front of me and look at the big picture.  I have to see those words: “#1 New York Times Best Selling Author Talia Clay.”  I have to see my master’s degree framed and mounted on the wall.  I have to see my accomplishments in action so I can continue moving forward.

I never understood why self-help authors tell people to make vision boards. I get it now. Vision boards let you see your accomplishments before they happen. They inspire you.  They remind you why you’re busting your ass doing bullshit you don’t care about. They give you hope.

Hope, in and of itself, is the best motivator.

I’m a slacker

I admit, I’ve been slacking off.  Not only have I not been updating this blog, I’ve been slacking off everywhere.  Take my graduate program for example.  I’m not focused as much on school as I’d like to be.  I barely get my homework done.  And usually, when I turn my assignments in, it’s not something I’m that proud of.  The work I’m producing I would not put in a portfolio.   The whole purpose of joining the program was so I could get a job in writing.  But if I don’t create anything of real quality, this program is a waste of time.  It is true what they say, what you put in is what you get out.   Now the question is, what is preventing me from really, truly doing my best.

I’m starting to wonder if I’m working too much.  Before I got my car, riding the bus to work was taking a considerable amount of time.  It was eating away at any free time I had.   Essentially, I have filled my bus time, with the gym, salsa lessons and other recreational activities (like going to the beach).  I haven’t used the extra time to get homework done.

Is working 25 hours a week too much for a graduate student?  Some of the other student’s in my program work full time. I can barely manage this part time thing. I really thought I wanted to have a full time job by the time the fall semester started, but I changed my mind.  I can’t handle that much.  At this point I’ve been unfocused.  8 months into my degree and I’m still unfocused.

On taking criticism

The hardest thing about being a writer is having to take criticism from your peers, professors, editors or publishers. I hate it.

I remember when I was in elementary school, I was working on some creative form of writing.  The teacher told me that I should modify my work in a certain way, a way I didn’t like.  I felt as if I didn’t have a choice because my teacher was a source of authority and of course, they knew better than me.  Ultimately, I was unhappy with the final outcome of my creative work because they teacher influenced me to change it into something I didn’t like.

I’m not saying that all authoritative figures pressure their students into changing their work into what they think it should be, but my experience in grade school has been pretty representative of my experiences overall.    In college I had a poetry professor who was excellent orchestrating criticism sessions.   I don’t feel that the criticism was any different, she just made the class a safe place.  And as a highly sensitive person, I appreciated that.   One particular poem turned out better in the end because of everyone’s feedback.  My professor helped her students capture their intent, style and voice in their writing.   I’ve forgotten what that feels like because most classes leave me feeling deflated or inadequate.  I can’t be that horrible of a writer.

Because of this criticism problem I’ve adopted a coping strategy.  When working on assignments, creative or otherwise, one of two things usually happens: #1) I will work really hard on the assignment and feel good about it.  or #2) I’ll do a half-assed job, and know it’s a half-assed job and hope its not as bad as I thought.    No matter which route I take (usually # 2), I still get the same about of criticism on my work.  And I’ve found that its much easier to take criticism on work where I’ve done a half-assed job and know the criticism is warranted.  However, when I pour my blood soul and tears into the work, the criticism stings.

People making comments and suggestions is not the problem.  The problem is when they are trying to fit it into some cookie cutter mold that satisfies their expectations.  The problem is when my best still isn’t good enough.  And that’s what happened in class this week.  I gave a whole hearted effort to my assignment due this week, and I don’t remember one positive comment from this week, not even from the professor.

I’m not going to lie.  I like my writing style.  It’s taken a long time, but I’ve found a voice I’m comfortable with.  And I think that when I work really hard at something, it comes out pretty well.  Not worthy of what I got this past week. When I come up with something I like, it will be extremely difficult to get me to change it.  Sometimes, I will have spent hours agonizing over a phrase and eventually get it to a place that I like.  Then, my commenters say that line is a piece of sh*t, then what?

Especially with poetry, I take the bullsh*t comments and flush them down the toilet.  I roll my eyes at the stupidity of my commenter’s inability to comprehend; yet I also relish in the fact that they will never understand.  But I quit poetry (academically) because its too complicated.  I’ve always seen the world in a strange, unappreciated way.  I wrote a poem about a beautiful girl walking, and her desire to shun peer pressure to be a certain way because of society, and my readers interpreted it as some model trying not to be anorexic or whatever.  I didn’t correct them.  It’s poetry- you are entitled to your read of it.  From your experience, your personal life, the writing may speak to you in that way.  And I think that any type of writing can work like that.  Readers will see the world you create in your writing through the tint of their reading glasses, not yours.  They read what they want to; they’ll skip what they don’t.

Now all of this gets incredibly complicated when your grade is being determined by someone who doesn’t get you, or at least refuses to see your perspective.

I can’t focus long enough to write 500 words

Never, I repeat, NEVER get out of the habit of writing. If you do writing becomes more difficult. As a grad student, I am a slave to word counts.

I used to write all the time in my diary for hours. Now, I can barely write a 500 word analyzation. I feel like I have nothing to say about it. Maybe none of these texts made an impression on me. I read it earlier today and can remember very little, even though I was laughing my a** off. Maybe I should talk about that in my little homework assignment. 500 words is nothing, yet here I am stuck at 137! A girl in my class says she writes thousands of words a day. How on earth does someone have time for that? I guess it may not be as important to me. I’m starting to question why I am in the program.

It’s not that I’m not interested. I just need focus. I spent a lot of time sleeping and relaxing today (and thinking how I should be doing homework). I was supposed to do all my homework in 4 hours. Two before lunch and two after. With an hour in the middle of course. I couldn’t even handle the first hour without getting sleepy. Maybe I need to start drinking coffee or something. I can’t let sleepiness interfere with my work.

I need a plan or else I’m going to fail at my goals. A friend of mine suggested I come up with a business plan for this freelancing/writing thing. I see how that can be helpful. I feel like a hodge podgey mess right now. I cant figure out if its my lack of socialization with others, and lack of activities outside of the house which is making me crazy. I mean, that could be the source of the problem. I’m just so bored out of my mind. Right now I have very little balance between fun and, well, not fun. My life right now is mostly not fun. Work, school, homework, bus travel. I try to work out, but unfortunately that is categorized in the “not fun” category.

I think having a car will give me the freedom to do some of the things I cant do without it consuming nearly the entirety of my day. Even going to church would be fun. Its something I’ve wanted to do consistently for a long time, but my church would take 1.5 or more hours to get to on the bus.

Another thing I’m really starting to get into is music. I just started learning how to play guitar. I love music! I always have. I think being able to participate in some musical venture would add a lot of fulfillment to my life. Especially singing.

I’m starting to think, that maybe I don’t have that much to write about. That sitting in my house all day because it’s rainy, doesn’t yield much material. And sometimes, I can be so anti-social. Writers in general can be shy, and anti-social. Its funny, I met Brad Meltzer, when he came to my store where I work to sign his new book. I wasn’t introduced really. But I rang up his transaction. He was just a normal guy. Not particularly chatty or anything. And I think many writers can be like that. Even in my program, we aren’t necessarily a chatty bunch.

I’m chatty, but I’m also very shy and introverted. It’s hard to put myself out there where people can reject me. And further I’m kinda dependent on others to get around to social gatherings. But hopefully soon, my transportation issues won’t be an obstacle anymore.

(see look at that: 500+ words in less than thirty minutes. why cant I crank it out like that in my school papers?)

Since I’m Alone

I’m abandoning protocol for today. I just need to vent. I’m sick. I powered through a day at work.   And now I’m just feeling cruddy.  And lonely.  What am I doing here?  Grad school, work, this apartment in the middle of freaking nowhere. You ever have moments like this? I’m far away from what I know.  And I feel like have completely alienated myself  from everyone.

The ironic part about it all, is I just want to go away, dip, vanish, hide out… you feel me?  Mostly from the responsibilities though.  Maybe even from myself.  I want a vacation, a mental vacation.  Soon I guess.  I’m going back home for a little, and Chicago for a wedding later on.  It will get here soon enough. 2010 is almost done.

The hardest part about being a “writer” type is that I’m not good with people.   No, I lie. I am good with people, I just don’t like making the effort.  And now I find myself looking back at something that wasn’t entirely healthy, and missing it, because in some ways, the past was easier.

I’m supposed to be moving forward, not looking back.   And right now forward may mean a career in publishing and living in NYC.  Scary right?

Down to the Wire

I got into grad school.  I’m really excited that this is happening. But I won’t be starting school until the fall semester.  I’m okay with that.  I just won’t have the financial help of financial aid.   At least not until school starts anyway.   I’ll have the opportunity to follow my dreams. I can apply to “student only” internships.  I can practice, practice, practice, until I’m a great writer.  I have a second chance at school.

Even though I didn’t find out about grad school before I came down to florida, I’ve been trying to get everything settled.  I should be able to transfer from my job in NC to one in FL.  I have no apartment yet and I don’t have a start date for work. My Mom is leaving on sunday.  I have to figure  this all out in a matter of days.  What do I do if my parents leave before I’m ready to  move?  I guess this is where I am relying on a little faith.

I know this is going to be hard work.  I tell my boyfriend about the apartments I’m going to see tomorrow, and the neighborhood I’d like to live in.  He keeps asking me how am I going to get to work?  How do I plan on getting around?  The bus, I tell him. I think he feels that he could at least help me out when I was living nearby.  But now that I’m going to be a half an hour away from him, he cant do anything to help me.  But thats okay.

I have to do this on my own. I have to prove to everyone who thinks I am going to fail, that I’m not.  Sometimes, I feel my parents are resigned to the fact that I cant do this, not my way at least.  Yes, I will have to take the bus.  Yes, it will be really hot outside.  Yes, it will rain and I may just get wet.  Yes, it may take me an hour to get to work.  But I’ll make it work.  I will save for a car.  I will pay down my bad debt so I can get a car loan.  I’ll do what I need to, to get by. I’m not sure I’ve ever worked this hard for something. I’m not ready to give up.   I’m so close and I don’t know whats going to happen.  I’m scared out of my mind.

Moving: 1 week

I’ve been quite neglectful of my blog.  The site hardly even looks the same. sigh.

I didn’t expect my move to go like this.  Two months ago, I was freaking out because I didn’t think I’d have the cash to reach my (new) goal: End of March.  Now the cash is overflowing... I’ve picked up a couple of relatively profitable freelance projects which make my financial worries seem like nothing.  A month ago, I thought 11 hours of work, per week at the bookstore  wasn’t going to be able to finance my trip back to freedom.  I’m going out with a bang! 25 hours the this week, 35 hours my last week, and 30 hours of paid vacation the next week.  Thats probably more money I’ll know what to do with.

Anywho. I haven’t heard back from grad-school.  I haven’t heard back from the people who will transfer me.  How will I find a place to live without a job.  What landlord in their right mind would approve me to live in their home if I have no job, and no student loans to pay for my housing?!?!

I did everything right.  I studied for the GRE (barely got a passing score).  Turned in my application.  Got letters of recommendation.  Created a diverse 25 page portfolio.  For once in my life, I worked really hard at something and I’m scared I am going to fail. I suppose it’s time that I start looking for a back up plan.  Another job in my new city.  Something.  I’m signing up with a head hunter tomorrow after I make some last minute changes to my resume.

Other than than that, all I’m doing is freaking out. It’s starting to show too.  One of my managers said I was cranky.  He said he was not used to seeing me cranky.  This is bad.  I’m usually good enough to seem happy work, so no one knows I’m torn up inside.  Fake it till I make it.  For me to be cranky at work, it’s not a good sign.

I’ve been checking the mail anxiously for the letter of acceptance (or rejection) to grad school.  I haven’t thought much about the rejection, but I need to know.  I guess I just expect to get in.

I told my parents I’d paint my room.  I dont have time.  But somehow, I feel like I’d fall back on my promise if I don’t do it.  I don’t want them to look down on me for this.  I will do it.  Kind of as a “thanks for letting me stay here,”  or “sorry for being such a pain.”  I dont know. Something. I will squeeze in painting between the 60 hours of work to do during the next week. I will.  I can’t fail this one.  I guess its time to get organized.

Plotting My Escape

The Plan

Long time, no updates, I know.   Here is the theoretical plan.  Start grad school in May.  Live on campus.  Use student loans to pay for everything, mostly. Work during the day, go to school at night. By the time march gets here, I will have enough $$$ to move back to Florida!!! Yay!

The Problem

But there is one little crux in my plan.  Where do I live from March to May?  There are no such things as 3 month leases. Extended Stay is way t0o expensive.

Plan B?

Since three month leases dont exist, I still move in March, but dont start school till the fall.  More time to save money.  More time to pay down credit cards, more time to get used to living in a new city (without a car).  However, 6 month leases don’t exist.  Or at least not in the neighborhood where I thought I could live. If I find a six month lease, nearby where I want to be, that is affordable I will be all set.

Other Thoughts

What I need to do is spend the next month studying like crazy for the GRE.  I even have a plan laid out and everything.  So I take the test. Turn in all of my application materials by March 1st.  Get into grad school.  If I start school in May, I wont have to work like a maniac just to make ends meet.  I can go to school, work part time, and life is awesome!  But then I have that 3 month problem.  If I start school in the fall, I have to work like a maniac (ie, work hard!) but I’ll probably be in a better financial situation when school starts.

Why don’t you just stay in NC until May?

Are you kidding?!  March already seems really far away.  See, I want to get the hell out of North Carolina. Its Boring and Cold.  Besides, I need to be out on my own.  I’m already buying groceries and starting to rely less on my parents for stuff I need.  I am no longer saving money in areas where I should be saving.  So this little “vacation” away from paradise really isn’t so great anymore.

The Solution

That is TBD.  I still plan on turning in my application materials March 1st. That way, either option will be open, and I won’t have to worry about getting everything together while I am working like a maniac.