Procrastination is a Lie

My daughter has difficulty with completing her homework each night. She’s more than capable, she just doesn’t like doing the work. She also doesn’t like lies or liars. In fact for the longest time she didn’t like many of my jokes because they were predicated on some form of lie, but now she understands the difference between lies for the sake of a joke and lies told in an attempt to deceive someone in a harmful way. I still don’t think she gets “white lies” but I’m not pushing her on that regard.

She’d had a bad day with her homework one day, and her mother and I asked her why she hadn’t finished. ‘Procrastination,’ was her honest answer, but then she blew it off like procrastinating was just something that happened to people, like traffic or allergies. So in an attempt to get her over her homework hump I told her something I thought would get her moving or at least thinking.

“Procrastination is a lie,” I said, and as soon as I said it, I believed it to be true, because it is.

She was thoroughly confused with what I said. She thought I was calling her a liar because she used procrastination as her excuse. No, that wasn’t the case I assured her, and I laid out my reasoning.

Procrastination is a lie. It is a lie we tell ourselves. The lie suggests: “I will be happier if I don’t do this now and do it later.” “I will feel less burdened if I don’t do this now.” “I will do this later.” “It will be easier if I do this later.”

Those are all lies.

If procrastination tells you that you will be happier or less burdened if you do something later, that’s a lie. You might feel an instant sense of relief, but deep down inside you know that the task lies just over the horizon. The task becomes a distraction and worrying about the distraction or the impending task becomes a burden that you may feel. The truth of the matter is that if you simply buckle down and complete the task as soon as you can, when you have completed it, you will have no distractions, no limits to the remainder of your time. Burdens are shackles and true happiness comes with freedom.

“I will do this later,” is my favorite lie to myself. I always get more accomplished if I simply do something as soon as I think about it – assuming I have the time. There is one caviot to this however. One needs to ensure that s/he is not procrastinating on a harder, less enjoyable task by taking on a simpler or more enjoyable one. I often do this, and I never complete any of those tasks. If I focus on getting things done and avoid putting off tasks as they come, I get more done. Later is a lie. Now is a house in which truth dwells.

“It will be easier if I do this later,” is a lie that can occasionally be true. Unless something is literally keeping you from a task, finishing will usually be quicker if you simply start something as soon as possible. Sometimes some event happens that makes the task much easier. I encounter this on occasion at work. An individual might read email and add information regarding a task I have assigned to me. That information often helps me narrow the scope of my research and achieve completion of the task more quickly, but in reality this happens less often than not. Most problems I solve at work are the result of my starting from square one and working to find the solution. Sometimes additional information is a distraction, and until you’ve done the work to understand the full scope of your problem, the information is just more junk to sort through on your way to understanding. Therefore most often, it has been my experience that one should start work as soon as possible. If new information comes along that makes the task simpler or more correct, then give thanks for your good fortune and get the task done, but if you wait and new information never comes, then you have simply wasted valuable time for no good reason. The possibility of help is usually a lie. You can only count on yourself to get things done.

I’m sure there are more lies that procrastination tells. If you think of any, please share in the comments.

© 2016, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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I Ain’t Skeerd (Actually I’m Terrified)

One of the things I tend to do with this whole writing business is to make decisions based on the level of fear it invokes in me. The more terrifying I find the potential for something, the harder I dig into myself to actually do it. So as I mentioned in my previous post, I mentioned writing a short story for the Writer’s Symposium at GenCon in 2014. What I didn’t mention is how close I came to not doing it in the first place.

The idea of writing something and reading it in front of a group of unknown people was terrifying. I remember looking over the schedule of events for the symposium and wondering if I could do that. No, no I’d never be able to do that. I was certain of it, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it.

At the time I didn’t know any other writers closely enough to feel confident to ask them to read my stuff, so I mostly asked friends and family who historically gave me high praise. But I knew I needed more. I needed someone to tear me down – in a good way. I needed someone who would be able to separate the bullshit from the Shinola and help me become better in my craft.

I don’t want to be overly critical of my alpha readers, they’ve been wonderful in helping me grow and develop. They’ve encouraged me and pointed out some fatal flaws. For all of that I’m desperately grateful. But they weren’t industry insiders. They weren’t people who did this for a living or even as a hobby. I needed that next step in critique, and that’s why I kept coming back to the idea of writing something and having it critiqued by actual strangers.

It was terrifying to consider. I shook visibly as I reached for the button to reserve my spot. My guts twisted, pushing acid into my stomach higher and higher until I could almost taste it. I salivated nervously and licked my lips before swallowing several times.

Then I pressed the button.

Instantly I felt relief. My guts unwound, and my salivation returned to normal. I still trembled slightly, but it was over. Finished. Complete.

Except it wasn’t. Now I had to write something to read in front of four editors. Fuck.

I went with an idea I had about a young lady being led through a tunnel and into a room where ghouls dined. I didn’t have much more than that, and I wrote it up pretty quickly. That first version was around twelve hundred words. I revised it four or five times after getting input from my readers and ended up with something I’m rather proud of.

When I attended the event at GenCon I was trembling once again. The panelists were really funny and interesting people. They all seemed to know each other and talked and talked and talked and OH MY GOD STOP TALKING I’M DYING HERE!

And talked.

Ooo! I found my notes. The panelists were Jason Schmetzer, Kerrie L Hughes, Dylan Birtolo, and John Helfers. They seemed really cool in all honesty. But I was full of anxiety and ready to go. I mean that literally and figuratively. I wanted to flee, to give up my spot at the table I had secured for myself and go away. It was a terrible idea in the first place. Why did I even consider doing this very, very bad thing?

AND THEY’RE STILL TALKING! HA! HA! HA! HA! THAT WAS FUNNY CAN I DO THIS THING NOW?! AAGH! STILL THE TALKING!

It may not seem like it, but I knew it was only my anxiety being a dick, and it was on point with its dickishness too. I had made a pact with myself, however. I’d worked hard to polish my turd into something I thought was good or at least good enough, and damn it, I was going to see the ordeal through to the end.

Once they FINALLY started, they asked for volunteers. I didn’t want to be first, but I did want to get things over quickly, so I ended up going second or third. They were pretty nice to me I think. They had a range of items with my piece including: The pacing was wrong for someone who’s nervous. Who was this person escorting her? Surely they knew each other somehow for her to go with him. Apparently I gave too many details (sight, sound, texture) too often.

There was more, but I forgot half the things they said almost as soon as my turn was over. All in all, it was a good experience for me. I mean, I wrote a horror story – something I don’t even read very often – and they didn’t laugh me out of the building. Well, maybe they would have had they been assholes, but they didn’t which told me the writing world has some good guys in it. It also told me to keep trying, to keep going, and to get better because there may one day be a place for me – eventually, maybe.

So that has become my model. If I consider doing something and it scares me, I do it.

My latest adventure is to take the Writer’s Digest University class “Worldbuilding in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing” taught by Philip Athans. I haven’t done an online class like this before, and I’m really interested in how it goes. I really didn’t want to spend the money, but so far every time I’ve considered something and did it despite the cost in time and money, I’ve later looked back on the experience and thanked myself and God that I did it. Each thing I have done has helped me grow in my craft, and I am thankful for it all.

So I implore you. If there’s something scary about your art – not dangerous scary, but stupid anxiety scary – and you hear yourself saying “if only …” please, please, please make that jump. Do it. Swallow that stomach acid. Take slow and steady breaths. And press the button. You’ll be glad you did, because at the very least you won’t be sitting around one day and think “if only …”

© 2016, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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New Schedule

I have a new schedule. My assistant/manager/wife and I worked it out recently, and right before I was to start the schedule, I got sick. I think what I had was allergy related, but while I didn’t feel horrible, I felt terrible. I couldn’t focus, and I slept an inordinate amount of time. I didn’t write a lick. I’m just not that disciplined yet. On my new schedule, Tuesdays are supposed to be when one of two blog posts per week drop. The post that I would have posted today should have been written written last week and edited yesterday, but that didn’t happen because … well the schedule wasn’t yet in place.

So I’m going throw something together really quickly and call it done. Congratulations, you’re here for my version of a flashback episode.

WEAVING A DREAM or HOW I GOT STARTED AND WHERE I LANGUISHED

Several years ago, around 2010, I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time. It was a staggering flop. I wrote maybe 15,000 words. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing or where I was going to go with what I wanted to do with the writing. Plus I have to admit that I’m just not as disciplined as one really needs to be to complete 50,000 words in thirty days. Plus I’m ridiculed with self doubt and a really negative inner voice. “You always sucked in English class.” “You have a hard time sitting down to read for more than a minute.” “You are untrained and unskilled.” Honestly, I’m a fucking asshole to myself.

I tried NaNoWriMo again in 2011 or 2012 with an even worse record, so I shelved the idea, the dream. I mean really? Who was I to think I could write a book? If I did, it certainly wouldn’t be any good.

But I’m a glutton for punishment.

I am usually the DM for my D&D games, and I love coming up with complex scenarios and interesting and unexpected surprises for my players. So I always kept looking for helpful hints and perhaps classes that could teach me the fine art of creative writing if for no other reason to help me with my gaming, but honestly I wanted to “legitimately” ‘learn’ how to be an effective writer. Nothing ever fit however. Every option was too formal, or too intimidating, or too … whatever. Then I stumbled upon writeaboutdragons.com, a website constructed by a student of Brandon Sanderson’s 2013 creative writing class at Brigham Young University. The student recorded the entire lecture, and I watched the complete set of videos multiple times – often while playing Minecraft.

For me the class was everything I was looking for because frankly, I fucking love Brandon Sanderson. And the cool thing is he’s a giant nerd too. He plays Magic the Gathering and writes really neat fiction. He’s kind of goofy and really nice. He was in the band in high school. I like to think of him as ME if I hadn’t let anyone tell me what to do in college on my first go around. Sorry. You have to forgive my grandiose dreams. I do love my fiction, but the similarities between him and me are pretty convincing. I mean I *do* play Magic (well used to). And I *am* kind of goofy (No qualifiers, it’s true). And I *am* a really nice guy (even if I am a real asshole to myself and have a horrible sense of what one should and should not say in polite conversation). And I was even in my high school band. The similarities are almost endless!

So I started to write again, but this time I tried to do some of the things that Brandon outlined in his class that I had never done, namely come up with a full plot first. I wasn’t successful with my next attempt – well not at completing the book … yet, but I did craft a pretty nice little story for myself. It was the first thing that I’ve written that people asked for more of. I finally thought, “Hey I might actually be able to do this. Some. Maybe.” My friends and family were there pushing me on, and that was really nice, but what do they know?

SITTING DOWN TO SEW FOR THE FIRST TIME or WHERE AND WHEN I REALLY STARTED

In 2014 I wrote a short story to be read at the Writer’s Symposium being held at  GenCon 2014. My fabulous friends and family were encouraging me to write more. So being both horrified at the idea and delightedly giddy, I wrote a short story, revised it several times, and read a portion of it in front of four complete strangers, all accomplished editors. It scared the crap out of me. They gave me honest if lengthy critiques, and I was happy for it, but I wanted to go further than just that. I needed a full review of the work by someone in the know, not just friends and family.

The San Antonio Writer’s Guild short story competition was accepting entries shortly after my GenCon adventure. I took my short story, applied the critique I received at the panel, and revised it once more. I submitted the story. The first round of judging was performed by two separate individuals. These two judges were very different. The first really liked what I had done and gave me very high marks across the board. I think this individual was exactly the kind of person for whom I should write horror. The second judge … well based on the second judge’s grading, I felt like I had re-encountered my most stringent grammarian high school teacher. Not the one who “got me” and wanted to encourage my creativity, but the one who wore a mask of WTF while reading my work. Most of the marks were high, but a few were very low. Regardless, the two combined scores were enough to get my entry into the second round of judging. (Yay, thank you judge who got me!).

The second round of judging in the horror category was done by Joe McKinney. He said some very nice things about my ability to creep a reader out, which was my goal, but suggested that my story fell short in that because the story was told by a dead protagonist and the ending suggested that there was more after, it could really only end up being a revenge tale. I disagreed, but if I didn’t get across what I intended to get across, then I didn’t do my job as a writer. So it doesn’t matter if I disagreed or not. I framed Mr. McKinney’s judgement and I have it hanging above my writing desk. I count it as a win, even if I lost the contest.

After receiving my scores and review for the short story, I was delighted because I knew that I could do this writing thing. I had only written a couple partial novel attempts, and I canned them all while I wrote the short story. They remain canned for the time being as I started a novel based on my short story which was a diary entry of a young French woman living in 19th century Paris – who gets killed by ghouls. My novel would include additional diary entries which would be discovered and translated by a man in the 1980s. I have almost a dozen rough, first drafts of novel entries of this young woman / ghoul as she tries to pass as normal while fighting off her hunger and discovering her supernatural powers. It’s fun.

Since the contest, I’ve attended several day and half-day long writing classes through The Writers’ League of Texas. I’ve watched many Writer’s Digest Tutorial videos. I’ve been on a week long retreat in Alpine, Texas, and I even took a two day class in Houston under Dave Wolverton. Without that one short story, I wouldn’t have had the courage to do any of those things. It is almost sad in a way that I could have missed all those wonder opportunities had I never gone to GenCon or had my story been judged differently in the contest, so I’m very grateful for that success.

SEAMS PULL LOOSE or SHIT HAPPENS

One thing I really desire as a writer is a writing group, a group of people going through the same process as me and needing the same kind of encouragement that I need. That would be cool. I almost had an online group, but people started dropping out pretty quickly. I am now a  member of a couple different Facebook groups, but that’s not the same. Not having someone that can read my stuff, knows what I’m struggling with, and holding me accountable when I slack off has been frustrating. In San Antonio there is the San Antonio Writer’s Guild (SAWG) which seems awesome … in the same way that the Library of Congress is awesome. I’m certain that there’s a metric shit ton of talented writers with a plethora of experience in SAWG, but I doubt (logically and emotionally) that my style or genre of writing and my neophyte status would be properly appreciated. And I have to admit, I’m not a big group kind of guy … not for this kind of thing. I want a dedicated group of about 4 to 8 writers who all love fantasy and horror. I want it. I want it. I want it. [babycrying.gif] Anyway, I don’t feel comfortable at the SAWG meetings. I feel … like an angry pimple, ugly and unwanted, ready to burst. I may not be true, but truth is irrelevant here. To make matters worse, SAWG seems to swallow up any smaller groups that are lacking leadership or structure in the San Antonio area. This may be for the best for those groups, but in my mind it already makes a monolithic group that’s already too big for me just that much larger.

Since I couldn’t have my complete way with writing groups, and since Destiny (the video game – don’t play it, it’s too good even when it is bad) has dominated most of my time, I haven’t written more than about ten thousand words in the last several months. I did cross the threshold of actual novel in my word count, which delights me, but I’ve been sitting on that spot for weeks. Longer even. My writing habit has been pulling apart at the seams, and I was simply letting it.

Have you ever simply sat back and watched a facet of your life crumble knowing you had the power, but not the drive, to change it? Well if you haven’t then let me tell you this. It sucks. In situations like this I often feel like if I cannot fix this thing that is falling apart, and fix it perfectly, then I shouldn’t even bother trying. THIS IS BULLSHIT! and I know it, but sometimes that’s not enough. So I sit and watch. Then occasionally I think to myself, “Hey jackass! Why not just pull the seam strings a little and at least slow things down a bit?” Occasionally I actually get off my ass and do exactly that. Sometimes I do more. I’m now trying to do more.

PULLING THINGS BACK TOGETHER or PULLING THINGS BACK TOGETHER

There’s something about this time of year, after all the hectic holidays are over, that makes me want to write. Plus Lent is upon us, and I am tasked with trying to come up with things I can do or things I can give up that will help make me a better person and the world a better place. I haven’t figured out the world so much, so I usually work on the ‘me’ part. Maybe one day, my example will help the world in some small way. Who knows? But it does bring me to now, the schedule, and my determination to make myself a more disciplined person, a more skilled person, and a more successful person who, perhaps, isn’t such a dick to himself.

I’ve written one short story and posted it to my site, “Draug Counts to Ten.” My first draft was over two thousand words. I cut it down to under fifteen hundred, but honestly I think some of the revisions took out a lot of the soul of the story. Lesson learned. I have couple more short stories about Draug coming in the future. I have another short story that everyone wants to think was inspired by American Gods except that I haven’t read that work yet. I’m currently revising that one. I just need to ensure I don’t lose the soul of the story in the process. Finally I have a fantasy story that involves another monk, though this one is a lizard man. I’m trying to go with a pulp fiction style of story with him. We’ll see how that goes.

So basically when it all comes down to it, it seems like I’m actually making some progress. I sure hope so. I just have to be sure to continue without quitting forever. I started blogging years ago. I didn’t post often though. If I had maybe I’d be further down the road, but I can tell that my writing in general continues to improve. If you are like me, if you doubt your very dream, if you don’t think you are worthy of the very goal you are attempting to pursue, then join me in standing up and saying, “Ya know, maybe all this self doubt is pointless … and maybe, just maybe, that little voice in my head should just go fuck off.”

And you know what? Even if you can’t say that right here and right now. That’s OK. Tomorrow is a new day. While you’re waiting on tomorrow to come though, why don’t you go ahead and just jot some ideas down in a notebook? Perhaps one day you’ll look back and inspire yourself with the genius hiding inside.

 

© 2016, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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