How to Avoid Avoidance Behavior


by Lillian Csernica on October 3, 2013

There’s a paradox that every writer experiences from time to time.  You really want to get that daily word count written, but the minute you sit down to go at it, your mind starts fighting itself.  Oh wait, gotta get those notes.  Need more coffee.  Did that e-mail reply come in yet?  Time to rotate the loads of laundry.  And there’s always the eternal lure of Spider Solitaire or Bejeweled.  Why does that wall of resistance pop up between you and your work?

Speaking for myself, I find it’s a combination of fear, fatigue, and inertia.

FEAR:  Every day I face the blank screen.  Every day I have to summon up more words to build on all the others I wrote yesterday.  Can I do it?  Do I have the words?  Do I have the right words?  Am I ever going to get all the way through to the end of this project and maybe see the day when other people buy it and read it and say good things about it?  This is an anxiety spiral.  It feeds on itself, pumping more and more adrenalin into the system.  It’s hard to concentrate when your heart is racing and your fight or flight response is making you climb your own mental walls.  Solution?  Get outside.  Walk it off.  Be mindful of the present moment.

FATIGUE:  Do you get enough sleep?  I know I don’t.  Is it quality sleep?  Mine frequently isn’t.  Good sleep hygiene is essential to the proper functioning of brain chemistry.  Believe me when I tell you proper brain chemistry is a happy thing.  Sleep also gives the subconscious time to sort through ideas.  You might wake up with the wonderful gift of What Happens Next.

INERTIA:  Remember Sisyphus, from Greek mythology?  He was condemned to push that boulder up that incline until he finally got it to stay at the top.  Every time he almost made it, something would happen to send the boulder rolling back down to the bottom again.  Writing is a lot like that.  You push that boulder up that hill and get your daily quota written.  Yay!  You’ve done it!  Wait a minute…  Oh no….  NO!   There goes the boulder.  Tomorrow you have to push that same boulder up that same hill again.  Sooner or later you will get that particular novel or story finished and off to market.  Trouble is, there’s another boulder waiting for you at the bottom of a new hill.

How can we train ourselves to withstand the self-defeating lure of avoidance behaviors?  Motivation.  Strong motivation is a powerful weapon against avoidance and procrastination.  Don’t take my word for it.  The key to motivation can be found in

The Long Answer:

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.   — Woodrow Wilson
The Short Answer:
You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.  —  Jack London
Motivation is a subject that deserves its own post, so let me get us back on track with curing avoidance behaviors.   I was in the audience for a panel discussion at a SF convention when a successful writer answered most of the questions that came up with one word: “Deadlines.”  That says a lot.  Accountability can force us to stop making the excuses that come so easily when we answer to no one but ourselves.  If there’s somebody else expecting us to deliver that thousand words, five thousand, one hundred thousand, that person will hold us accountable for our commitment.  Different switches get thrown inside our brains and suddenly we can shake off that lethargy and focus.

How can we manufacture such accountability, assuming we don’t already have editors tapping their fingers on contracts that bear both specific deadlines and our signatures?  People have diet buddies.  Exercise buddies.  Sponsors and tutors and study groups.  Find somebody you know who’s willing to trade accountability with you.  Agree on the amount of productivity.  Agree on the frequency of deadlines.  If possible, agree on some congenial meeting place like a bookstore or a coffeehouse.  Otherwise, meet up online via Skype or your webcam or whatever works.  If you know that by Thursday next your Writing Buddy is expecting to see the complete roughdraft of that new short story, you’ll be amazed at how your perspective and work ethic change.

 

Don’t confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other.  —  Erma Bombeck
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1 Comment

Filed under Depression, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Horror, Humor, romance, science fiction, Self-image, Uncategorized, Writing

One response to “How to Avoid Avoidance Behavior

  1. Pingback: How Spider Solitaire is Like Writing | Melanie's Life Online

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