I'm a huge procrastinator. As in, I'll sit down dutifully to write and then become distracted by a minuscule piece of dust....on the ceiling...that must be cleaned at that very moment! Heck, I'm struggling right now to write this post and I keep stopping to fix spelling errors instead of just getting the words out!
Over the past years, I've come to realize that my procrastination is directly tied to fear. And I have a lot of it. I'm a perfectionist and a researcher which is a deadly combination. If you give me a task without a very specific set of instructions, I'll research every way possible to get that task completed. For something like writing a book (the topic has tons of advice out there on how to do it), this research can take years. Because of that, it took me seven years to write 35,000 words and be ok with the outcome.
Atychiphobia (or fear of failure) is common among most newbie writers. You don't know what to expect and you feel as though the whole world is watching you with a smirk on its face as if to say, 'See? I told you you'd fail.' Everyone but yourself becomes an expert and you must follow all of their advice. When those little voices of doubt pop up in my head, everything comes to a screeching halt and I suddenly find myself tackling those household chores I'd been ignoring or surfing Facebook and getting wrapped up in kitty memes.
So how do you get over it?
I wish I could tell you a 100% guaranteed method. The final push for The Two Worlds was knowing that I was holding myself up from other projects and knowing that it didn't have to be perfect. My family was still proud of me when I self-published it, I still felt a sense of accomplishment and the world didn't stop spinning when I didn't make any sales. The work was out there, it was completed and I had learned a heck of a lot along the way. What more could I ask for?
As I start my second book, I feel that fear gripping me again ('You don't know what you're doing!', 'You'll have all this work to do and you won't have a life!', 'It'll be a horrible experience just like the last!') and procrastination rearing its ugly head despite my first accomplishment. But this time I'm a bit wiser. I know how long it should take me to write a book. I know how fast I can type. I know how to edit my work and how to create a book cover. I know how to begin marketing myself. And I have a new way of thinking.
What's the worst that could happen?
In the book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie tells us that when fear grips our consciousness and we start to worry, ask ourselves a simple question: What's the worst that could happen?
One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon—instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today. Why are we such fools—such tragic fools?
“How strange it is, our little procession of life!” wrote Stephen Leacock. “The child says, ‘When I am a big boy.’ But what is that? The big boy says, ‘When I grow up.’ And then, grown up, he says, ‘When I get married.’ But to be married, what is that after all? The thought changes to ‘When I’m able to retire.’ And then, when retirement comes, he looks back over the landscape traversed; a cold wind seems to sweep over it; somehow he has missed it all, and it is gone. Life, we learn too late, is in the living, in the tissue of every day and hour.”
When I ask myself that question, the only thing that comes to mind is that people will not like my work and not take me seriously as a writer. If that happens, my feelings would be hurt, but my income is not tied to writing fiction so I wouldn't go homeless and perhaps that criticism would force me to be a better writer. If folks aren't receptive of my work, that's ok!
Keeping that in mind has helped me tremendously. Even though I still procrastinate, the instances where I let it derail me are becoming less frequent.
After all, this post has been written hasn't it? :)
Your turn: Do you find yourself procrastinating on big projects, even if it's your dream work? How do you overcome it?