I’ve been fighting procrastination all my life. I wrote a paper on it once in college. I remember waiting until the last minute to do it. My self-esteem is tightly bound to my performance. I learned that procrastination is how a person like me can short-circuit that equation. Maybe the only way. If you wait until the last minute, you can salvage your self-esteem by saying, “Well, I did the best I could in the time I had.” So, whatever the quality of the end-product, however it is judged, it can still be my best. Thus, I am the best. Even when the time limitation is self-induced.
This is a bullcrap way to live your life.
I went through some old journals recently. I was constantly whining about how I needed to write more. Kind of sickening really. Jeez, do something about it, I said to my young self.
My battle against my problem finally resulted in an attempt at a novel. Via the NANOWRIMO construct in 2011. It was a glorious failure. I might’ve made it four days into the month. My story languished for a year. Then I stumbled on two things: the 250 Words a Day Challenge and a website called Beeminder. These two things helped me write more this year than I ever have before. And maybe more than all my other writing combined.
My obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is not a genuine diagnosed problem for me. But I have those tendencies. Primarily, I like to keep track of things. I have over thirty years of records of every run/ski/bike/hike I’ve ever done. The two tools I discovered this year helped me use my OCD for good instead of evil. And to short-circuit the short-circuit of procrastination. And finish the story I started.
First, was the concept, opposed to NANOWRIMO, of long-term concerted effort. Which is how I believe people become craftsmen. I just couldn’t make it happen without outside help. I found Debbie Ridpath Ohi and her idea for a 250 Word a Day Challenge at the perfect time. She has other “badges” you can put on your website, like 500 or 1000 words per day, but I chose the smallest amount possible. I was in the middle of a 133-day streak of skiing or running at least one mile per day. Got that idea from Runner’s World. I was already primed for the idea of daily increments of a small, easy amount. I even wrote a magazine article for Silent Sports about how well “streaking” worked for me in sports. I wanted to see if it would help me in other parts of my life.
Secondly, I wanted to hold myself accountable. I found something called Beeminder. It’s essentially an adaptable tracking program that allows you to set a goal and track your progress to it. Poke around on the website for background on their theories about human nature and goal-setting. I used it for weight-loss goals and for my writing goals. I figured I’d give myself one day off a week. For 6 days a week, I’d do 250 words a day. 1500 words a week. I told myself I’d do that for a year. It’s hard to squirm out of the Beeminder system. And, the bonus is that, it’s free. If you stick to your goals. If you don’t, you pledge to up your ante. I stumbled three times during the year. My “pledge” went from zero to ten to 30 to 90 dollars. I ended up paying thirty dollars to the Beeminder people. I avoided the 90 dollar threat by reaching 78,000 words for the year. Beeminder is essentially an elaborate bet against my darker nature.
My OCD worked pretty well with Beeminder and 250 Words a Day to back it up. This little blog post put me over eighty thousand words by my self-imposed deadline. Cool. I read somewhere once that someone told a writer they must “really like sentences.” The smallest increment. In a streak. The literary equivalent of “inch by inch, everything’s a cinch.” I finally outfoxed procrastination.
The simple numbers are great, but to what end? The good news is that I finished my story. By mid-February of 2013. I was done telling my thing and it was only 15,000 words. Definitely not a novel. And I had ten months to go. So now what? I ended up delving into memoir-ish things and poetry to keep the word count climbing. I found myself obsessed with output. I also managed to cobble together an ebook and publish it. It’s called Outside Duluth. Finishing my “novel” and publishing an ebook were my two writing goals for the year. So, that’s good to see in the New Year reckoning mood.
I’ll do some things differently this year. I need to be as disciplined about editing my output of drivel as I am about churning it out. And there’s no need to pay a robot to crack the whip. There are free options for tracking progress that will solve my need to “keep track” and count toothpicks like Rainman. Like this one. Or a piece of paper and a pencil.
Or I could just grow up and show some discipline about trying to learn a craft. Like an adult.