The Revision Process for Book One – the Beginning

I mentioned this in a my post on finding out I had depression, but it’s a big deal so I’m going to restate it. I’ve finished my rough draft!!

WOO HOO!

I think I need to talk a little bit about how finishing my rough draft came to be before I start talking about how revision is going for me.

I STRUGGLED to finish my rough draft. I almost quit several times because I didn’t know where I was going on top of all of my natural insecurities. I’d started writing with a loose outline and quickly veered from it. Whenever I looked at where I was going versus where I planned to go, I decided that I liked my changes more than I liked the original loose outline, so I kept going. I got farther and farther into the weeds. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going but turning back meant abandoning half or more what I had written, stuff I loved, and I wasn’t going to do that to myself. So I resolved that first I was going to finish. I was going to finish something, ANYTHING. Once I finished I would go back and fix everything, but I couldn’t change anything significant (which I always want to do) until I had finished the rough draft.

So I did what everyone told me to do but I fought the entire way. I stuck my ass in my chair, I put my hands on the keyboard, and I didn’t get up until two hours or 1000 words graced the pages.

As God as my witness, it was HARD.

Then one night, I’m working on this mystical element that I was using to connect the protagonist to her future mentor, and bam! There was the climax. Suddenly I was writing the final chapter. Where had it come from? Who the fuck cares? It worked, so I ramped up the tension, I dialed up the consequences, and I pushed my heroes to the limit forcing one to sacrifice something of him or herself for the other to prevent disaster.

When I finished I sat back and went, “wow”. I liked it. I liked it a LOT. But I knew the rough draft was broken in a dozen different places. I have really cool scenes that I know just aren’t going to make it to the final product. I cut an entire subplot. I have problems and characters introduced much later in the manuscript that I know need to be foreshadowed or introduced much earlier. I have issues with continuity. Finally I have no real external conflict, and while that might work for some stories, I think mine really needs a solid external conflict of some sort.

So I took a week off before revising.

Then a week turned into two, which turned into a month.

During the month I pitched around several ideas about what I might do to give my story some external conflict that paralleled or at least co-operated with my protagonist’s internal conflicts. I finally hit on a couple of different things I could do. One of those ideas was an externalization of her literally internal fears and desires. I asked my psychiatrist about this because it felt like something someone would read and yell about how I didn’t understand the ego and id or some such, but she thought it was a neat idea and was interested in reading it when completed. My writing coach was really excited about it too.

But I was scared.

Yes. I was scared. This was revision time. I had come to the conclusion that “the Rough Draft is Shit” (see Anne Lamontt‘s Bird by Bird). But revisions? Revisions are supposed to be better, and I didn’t know I had it in me.

Finally, after letting way too much time go by without writing, I decided to test out my ideas. I found the single most deplorable, sickest, and potentially reader-alienating scene in my book about a ghoul, and I rewrote that scene with all relevant changes in mind. The rewrite was about 6000 words, and I kind of loved it. But I’m a little bit of a sick puppy so I figured I would reach out to a few friends and family to see if they would give me some feedback.

Almost everyone loved it.* I mean of course they would, they’re friends and family, but those that loved it, really loved it. They wanted to read the whole thing right then, but I didn’t have the whole thing. I just had that one scene. But their wanting to read more makes me want to write more. So that’s what I’ve started to do.

This week I’m nearing 21k words revised. Almost 14k revised this week alone. I’ve been putting off blog posts because I’ve been writing, which is nice, but my idea for this blog was to always leave you folks in the loop on the off chance that one day, someone would be looking for some inspiration, stumble upon this site, and find out that they are not alone. This shit is hard, but if you do it, you’ll reap vast rewards even if you never sell a single copy. This is the most fulfilled I have felt in a long time – although that could be the drugs talking. Whatever. I’ll take it.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to do some more writing tonight. I need another 2.2k to hit my weekly target. My deadline for Revision 1 being done is Sept 30, 2017 which of this writing is 49 days away.

I’ll try to keep you posted.

Now go forth and create something new.

* The only person not to love it didn’t expect and adult horror novel. They were expecting a YA chapter. I felt bad.

© 2017, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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Depression: It Sucks

Hey folks, I know I haven’t posted in half a year, but I’m trying to change that. I often feel like I have to have something to say before I can post anything, but that’s because I’m lazy. Mostly. It also seems I have depression. I’m getting treated for it now so my willpower only has one major hurdle to overcome to get me to do things instead of two (depression and laziness).

I decided to make this blog post because I think people have a lot of misconceptions about what depression is. I also think most people who’ve never experienced a mental illness can’t quite wrap their brains around what it is like to experience it. So I decided to post about my experiences so that those that may be wondering just what in the blue blazes is wrong with you might be able to find something they can relate to and so that others might understand what sufferers might be going through when it is all but impossible to conceptualize something that is literally alien to how our brains are supposed to work. (Wow that was a long sentence).

So here’s the best description of my depression that I can conjure to date.

I continued to have ALL of my emotions, all of them. I could be happy. I could be sad. I could be angry. And I could be content. But slowly, so slowly that it was imperceptible, I started to feel a nothing in between. As that nothing feeling grew (and it totally did), I started to do less and to care less in general. I just wanted to relax because having to do things meant having to summon my willpower to gather the feelings necessary. This was a task that was getting harder and harder to do. It was much easier to sit and play video games.

Eventually the only real emotion I could have easily was anger … well anger or nothing. I could still feel everything else except maybe true contentment, but it was getting to be more and more of the extremes of those emotions. I wasn’t often sad, but if I ever did get sad, I’d burst into tears. When I was happy, I was ecstatic. But I was always just a little bit angry. I still had good days and bad days, but what I didn’t realize until after my meds kicked in was that my depression saddled good days were actually worse than my normal bad days. And since I was so easy to anger, anything that made me really angry just pulled me deeper and deeper.

I logically knew many times that *something* was wrong, but I figured it was my anxiety eating away at me. What drove me to the doctor was that I couldn’t concentrate without there being a ton of pressure to get something done. I assumed it was the anxiety or maybe ADD. I mean I definitely have some anxiety issues, but what I didn’t know was that anxiety and depression are VERY similar mechanically, and one can spawn or worsen the other. So my general practitioner sent me to a psychiatrist (a specialist because apparently a psychiatrist is also an MD – who knew?). She told me that the inability to concentrate mentally is analogous to a cough physically and therefore could be caused by a NUMBER of conditions.

So she asked me some questions, and I answered. I explained how I felt. I used a lot of metaphor, the two biggest of which were that I felt like I was wearing a lead cloak most of the time that held me down and prevented me from wanting to do anything because it was so much harder to do it. The second was how when things got bad on my bad days, I felt like I was spiraling deeper and deeper into a dark well or through dark clouds and I didn’t know if I could pull up and out or crash. I didn’t realize it until I was talking to her either.

So she was all “yep, you have depression,” and instead of giving me attention pills she gave me a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI). After about 7 weeks, I started to realize that things were going to be better. First because I ended up having a classic bad day, but instead of it spiraling out of control, when it ended it was done. A couple months later I realized I was actually feeling a wider range of emotions. I got angry without it being OMG ANGRY! I got sad without it being a sob session.

THAT’s depression.

Not feeling sad. Everyone feels sad sometimes. Not feeling numb, everyone feels numb sometimes. But the slow sapping of your emotions, your energy, and your sense of self.

At least that’s what it was like for me.

IF you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms like these, and if those symptoms have lasted for more than two weeks go to your family doctor. S/He will point you in the right direction.

Also know that if you EVER feel like committing suicide, unless you’re going to literally take out a half dozen Alien Xenomorphs as you go out (and I mean LITERALLY – so yeah, it’s not going to be in the cards), GO GET HELP! It gets better with help. It may take a while, but you’re just sick. You just can’t see it because the sickness literally hides itself from your brain’s ability to see it. You can get better.

No go forth and create something new.

© 2017, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

Back to Alpine

... to earn it
The goal

Recently I remembered what it was that I wanted to do with this site, and I need to get back to it.

When I was trying to figure out what my “author platform” would be, I wanted to stay away from things like politics or religion or basically anything that told people how to act or what to think. I don’t want to be the kind of guy that tells you that this group of people or that group of people are bad, because when it comes down to it, those groups are usually incredibly large and contain vast numbers of good people. Just because you and I don’t agree about some political point that one or both of us are passionate about doesn’t mean that we disagree about everything. Hell maybe we agree about everything else. When people belittle and deride others for having the audacity to have a different viewpoint on the world, I get sick to my stomach. Even if they aren’t talking about me, they might be talking about someone I love or someone I know to be a good person. And writers, writers who are supposed to be good at looking through the eyes of others, often seem to be the worst of those belittling others. I don’t want to be that person, so I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to teach.

It’s kind of laughable that I might teach anyone about anything related to writing, and I agree. BUT the one thing that I haven’t seen from any of the authors that I follow, is how much they screwed up along the way. How much worry and how many mistakes did they make on their journey to becoming published? Many write about much of what they have gone through after the fact, but I couldn’t find anyone who documented their struggle as it happened. That’s what I’m trying to do. That is why you’ll see me post stories about not writing. I struggle with not writing. I’m constantly trying to figure out how to just sit down and do the work. A dozen authors can tell you “sit your ass down and just do it,” but how many have shown you how badly they have done? Wouldn’t it be inspiring to see that some schlep posted story after story about how he couldn’t sit down and write? OK. Maybe not inspiring until he finally made it.

If you are with me along the path, some of you, nay many of you, who do end up writing your own novels, will likely finish before me. Some will not ever finish. I’m going to. I have so many stories in me that I haven’t even discovered yet, and I know that getting that first one down and finished will start the process of the dam breaking. If you’re there with me when that happens I hope I inspire you to do it too. If you come after the fact and I’ve written several books, how inspiring would it be to find my previous multi-years worth of posts lamenting how I simply can’t write?

That is what I want to do, to inspire others. I want to do this because I know the pain of the story trapped within. I know the pressure building that has no vent, no release. It is far better to release that pressure in a controlled, useful manner than it is to let it build until there’s an explosion. After the explosion, you’re wasted inside. The pressure will no longer build, and so without that pressure, you have no useful energy to focus on doing something good. How horrible is that fate?

So, mentally I now go back to Alpine where I attended the Writer’s Conference of Texas Writer’s Retreat in 2015 (a little more than a year ago as of this writing).

The impact I experienced at that retreat was huge when I was there and shortly after. Over time I started to feel like I shouldn’t have gone at all. That was the Impostor Syndrome talking, but I realize now that I probably should not have gone so early in my journey. I wasn’t prepared. I still don’t think I am, and I’m much more qualified now than I was then. But at what point in your journey is a good time to go do something like that? Check me. I intend to return to that question.

Some of the things I really wanted when I went to the retreat included finding a writing group, finding others who write the kind of things I write, and finding some reassurance on general idea that I wasn’t crazy. Of those I found who were interested in the writing group, no one really seemed to want to keep the pace required. Everyone is busy and doing their own things, plus we were trying to do this over the Internet so it wasn’t as personal as it could have been. Finally, I just don’t think my style of critique and writing really meshed well with the other writers. I don’t think any of the others were interested in being a genre writer. In my estimation, they all hold the capacity to be literary writers, and there I was wanting to write paperbacks and short stories. I also started realizing I have no idea what I’m doing. I do think I realized that I wasn’t crazy. I mean, whenever I read for the group, people were intrigued by my story. I even had opportunities to shine a little, which for me is a big deal too. (Not because I’m all ego – which I am regardless – but because I like to think I can create something that brings joy to others. What is better than that?) So yeah. The experience was a mixed bag, and the longer I dwelt on the negatives, the more I started to think the whole experience was a waste.

What a fucking idiot I am sometimes. (No you can’t quote me, Chuck.)

Now however, I think back to that experience and the few I had since. I haven’t progressed on my path as I would have liked, but I have progressed. I’ve done more writing in the past two years than I have in the prior twenty five. If only I had been writing all that time. Actually I had been writing, just not in the novel form. Since I was eight or ten years old, I’ve played role playing games, you know Dungeons and Dragons and the like. I love the things. They are interactive storytelling experiences. With dice. And math. ALL THE THINGS I LOVE. Every once and a while I’ll find a couple sheets of paper tucked away in some forgotten notebook that details the life and times of random people. I was writing.

I can’t help but write, but my problem is that for so long I’ve been concerned with building likable characters that I haven’t really focused on building plots. Well that isn’t exactly true. I’ve tried to develop large complicated adventures before, but somehow the story always faded. Often I lost interest. That’s a significant flaw of mine. Often the players would want to do things that I as a game master didn’t want them to do. I once had a whole story written about some mutated sentient spiders. They were expanding outward from their caves and intruding on the lands of mankind because their king and queen were at war with each other.  Man. I was waiting to see the faces of my players as they descended into the crags and caves that the spiders lived. I envisioned the players descending into the caves. In the distance, beyond their torch light, they would see tiny motes of light sparkling at them. Deeper and deeper they would descend until the sparkling was all around them. Then a voice would ring out as one small cluster of sparkling light descended in front of them from far above. The voice would call out again, light would appear around the sparkling motes, and the source would reveal itself as a spider, eyes twinkling the group’s own light back at them. The reveal would have made months of adventuring so very worth the investment.

But after taking care of the small group of spiders attacking the random village my players were traveling through, they said “hey lets go to <place>!” <Place> being a thousand miles away … in the other direction.

Ah. The joys of being a game master.

So there I was a decade plus later and I realized I was done telling my stories through adventures that will never pan out the way I plan. Instead I’ll write a book or thirty, because things go the way we plan when we have all the control right? HA! I’m such an idiot. (See previous statement on quoting, Chuck).

So here I am, a year post Alpine, and I am thinking “did I do the right thing going to that retreat when I did?” The answer is yes. I may not have been ready for the lessons then as well I would be now, but I wouldn’t have made it to now had I not gone then.

If you think something will help you become a better writer, I say try it out. Just remember to take stock of your situation, and keep re-examining things at different times so you can get a better appreciation for what you did, how you did it, and what you can take from it. The journey isn’t about how well you did, if the timing was right, or when you do it. The journey is about the journey.

Keep writing.

© 2016, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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A Bad Week, Doubled

Last week was a bad week. I wrote maybe 500 words. I may have imagined them. The week before wasn’t much better with something in the neighborhood of 2-5000 words written.

What was wrong? Well on one hand I have my outside pursuits: Destiny – a video game I play with my wife and several friends; HirstArts – imagine Legos, but you literally make the blocks, glue them together, and paint them to make castles and dungeons; and just general laziness. On the other hand I really didn’t feel … I want to say ‘valued’ or maybe ‘capable’, but I think instead I’ll just let the sentence be, “I really didn’t feel.”

Was I depressed? Likely. But I have a crippling level of self-doubt and some major Imposer Syndrome going on too. Plus right now I don’t really like my job, despite loving it, the company I work for, and the people I work with. And I feel like I have no close friends, despite having many to whom I’m likely a poor friend yet they still call me friend. So yeah, depression is the most likely reason for some of my lack of writing.

I was likely on the verge of giving up, for a while.

A week or four, tops.

Probably.

And then I received an email from my writing coach, Erica Wright. I met Erica through OneRoom, which I pay for so you know she’s going to be supportive. Yet it took me two days to read the email.

I was pretty sure the email would say something like, “God Damn It, Joe! Get off your fat ass and write, or I’m passing you off to someone else who doesn’t give a shit.” Instead the email basically said: “You seem to work better with word counts as a goal. I have some suggestions on the OneRoom page. Check them out and let me know how I can help.”  Pretty straightforward stuff.

I still wasn’t sure the “help” on the OneRoom page wasn’t going to equate to what I feared the email might say, so I dragged my feet and waited another four days before reading. Mind you I was still in the mood to give up. For a while at least. Probably.

Erica maintained an upbeat and positive message for me, and it was exactly what I needed to hear (or read … or whatever). Suddenly I was out of my writing funk. I vowed to renew my writing over the weekend. Glory be to Erica.

During the weekend I didn’t write, but I did plan a lot. I returned to my story, and I reexamined it from the ground up. I know it has significant holes, and I know I am likely to veer from my outlined path, but damn it if I’m not happier. I feel the story again. At least for now.

I later reread Erica’s message out loud to my wife so that she might hear the gloriously uplifting message from my coach. Honestly it fell flat. It was almost as if upon sharing the message from coach to student, the potency of the message was diluted, was dissipated. A secret shared is no longer a secret. That was weird, BUT I must say, the impact of the message remains.

IF you are like me, maybe you could benefit from a writing coach. OneRoom is probably not the only player in town, but it is what I discovered. So far I’m happy with the results, as it has likely saved me from a wasted month or three. Plus my coach’s (to date) unwavering support keeps my eye on the prize more than it has ever been.

Thanks Erica!

© 2016, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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Questions

At what point does one throw in the towel? To admit defeat and move on? To simply quit?

As of this writing, I have 49000+ words written on my novel Charlotte. This isn’t my first attempt at a novel, but it is my most successful. And it is a total failure. Complete rubbish.

Well maybe not complete rubbish. I still like the basic premise, and Charlotte herself is mildly interesting. I also have a few secondary characters that are just starting to become more interesting. I have hints of a backstory for my heroine and a constant turmoil that she must endure as she simply seeks for a normal life. But the story so far simply lacks a plot. It is a day in the life sort of story told episodically through diary entries.

I like it, my wife likes it, my friends kind of like it … but it’s horrible. Just horrible. None of us would finish the book if we found it lying on the seat next to us on the train one day. Not unless we had a macabre desire for nightmares before bedtime. Currently I can’t even back that one up. In all honesty the reader would more likely drift off to Slumberland due to boredom. We would all wonder how it was that we came to be on a train however, as none of use live anywhere that train travel is readily available, but I digress.

My lead has no major flaws other than the inability to face her past. She’s only mildly proactive. Mostly she goes out looking for work each day and tries not to eat people. Kind of interesting, but not really. Right now my half developed secondary characters are more interesting: a roguish young man who seems rebellious but who is loved by the tenement children because he cares for them; a foreigner shopkeeper who has hunted vampires, was almost burned at the stake, and who is currently a mercenary spy; a manservant with a grinding voice who does vile work for monsters, yet gives his victims honest advice in what few words he speaks.  The most interesting thing my heroine has done is set her own compound fracture. Ouch, but yeah … that’s it. Oh and my villain? Meh! Right now he is a vague outline of a man who wields a whip while wearing a beaver top hat and has a thuggish toady to do his underhanded bidding. And maybe he had an affair with the heroine’s mother … and maybe he’s her biological father. Other than that though … nothing!

So I’ve determined that I have to restart. It is inevitable. I need to make an actual plot, and I have an idea. I will make my heroine more flawed and start before she becomes a monster. She will have a purpose but no ability to follow through. Then she’ll take a “job” that will kill her and begin the process of making her a monster. She’ll wake from her death and fight that transformation. At this point she will have power, power to follow through on her purpose, but she will find that she doesn’t have the skill to use the power. Enter the mentor who will guide her and become like family until his inevitable death. There, on the cusp of accomplishing her purpose, my heroine will now be cast down once more. Her descent will lead her to fully become the monster, but just before she does the one thing that will ensure her monstrous transformation, she pulls back from the brink with help from her friends. Her purpose largely fulfilled, she reasserts herself to a new purpose, one that will be far lasting and potentially redeeming (possibly ensuring future stories / serialization).

The above plot is significantly different than my current rough draft. There are scenes I can keep from my current work, but I feel like I should complete my current work before restarting. On the other hand I have a very difficult time telling myself to write something I know is going to be completely removed from the next draft. So how do I progress?

Options before me:

  1. Continue writing my current rough draft and just plow through with my original idea. I might be able to save something somewhere.
  2. Stop immediately, create a structured draft of the new story, and start again.
  3. Combine the two – sort of. Continue with the current rough draft but write as if I’m halfway through already.
  4. Delete everything. Get rid of it all, pull the hard drives and drill holes through them then pass the platters through some industrial shredder, delete all of my social media accounts, take online hypnosis classes and hypnotize my friends and family into forgetting I ever thought about writing, and then silently weep at night when no one is around until the pain goes away.

Options 1-3 are all pretty close in my mind, but currently 4 has the lead.

Does anyone that’s ever done this before have any advice?

 

© 2016, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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Back in the Swing of Things

I’ve been dormant for several months. There are reasons. The reasons don’t matter to my writing, but they exist. The real problem is that I’ve gone cold. It isn’t that I have writer’s block so much as I have writer’s don’t-give-a-fuck. I’m not sure, but I think that’s worse. Anyway, deep down inside I know that this is a temporary thing. I just want to ensure that it is more temporary than not, so I’m trying to force things along.

My new writing routine will be slow at first. What I’m aiming for is that each day I do two of the following:

  • Read Something
  • Journal Something
  • Write Something
  • Learn Something

I’d like to do each of those everyday, and I hope that eventually I will.

I’ve also decided that I have to do some writing prompts, if nothing else, on my writing days. I’ve resisted those for a while because I felt like, “If I’m not going to try to publish it, why would I ever write it in the first place?” But now I think I see that I’m just being foolish. I need to be able to write some throw-away stuff. Hell my entire first few years of writing is likely to be thrown away, so why worry about what it is? Additionally, maybe there will be some scraps of awesome in those throw away items that I’ll reuse later, or maybe I’ll get inspired by a throw away item to work on my novels or short stories. Who knows? I surely won’t if I don’t at least try.

© 2016, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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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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