I should be working on my manuscript right now. It’s Wednesday, which is the day that I try to write 5,000 words on my manuscript. I love the theme of my book, I love the work I’ve done so far on it, and yet here I am, opening a new document and typing another article.
Why am I not working on my book? I dream of being a published author, and yet instead of working towards this, I’m writing another article for Medium and pretending that this makes me productive. I’m going for the easier of the two options as if I’ve really given the choice some thought.
But why does it feel easier to write an article rather than continue an existing piece of work? You’d think that we’re more invested in our bigger project and eager to return to it, yet we choose the smaller prize time and time again.
Let’s take a look at why.
How often do you watch a movie? Many of us barely watch films and then blame it on the ‘time commitment’ required to watch a film. So instead of watching a two-hour movie, we’ll watch three forty-minute episodes of the Netflix show. And we’ll be proud of ourselves for making that choice.
When we look at a film, we see one colossal time commitment, and the same goes for our manuscript. We’ve become accustomed to quick relief tasks, through social media, shortened television shows and more. This has reduced our capacity to commit to something, and so the looming task of working on your book feels too great. You’d rather use the same time period to fire off a few articles.
The solution: Break down the gigantic task of working on your manuscript into bite-sized chunks. This could be through using the Pomodoro technique, or another timer, to see the end of your session in sight. This could be through breaking down the manuscript itself, writing one chapter today, which feels more culpable. Or, if you prefer word counts, plan in 1,000 words to start. Once you get there, you’ll likely feel more motivated to continue.
Have you ever heard of the marshmallow experiment? You place a marshmallow in front of a child and then tell them that if they don’t eat it before you return, they’ll get another one. It’s about delayed gratification, waiting to get more.
I suppose the adult version would be whether you spend $100 now or invest it to have $200 a year later. I’m failing that experiment too.
My point is that along with our struggle to commit for extended time periods, we also seek immediate pleasure in everything that we do. You could blame social media, as everything is at the touch of our fingertips. The same goes for the internet and electronics. I don’t have to walk to a store to purchase a record; I can find it on Spotify. I don’t have to drive to a restaurant; I can have the food delivered to my doorstep.
So alongside being lazy, we become greedy. We want everything now. That includes satisfaction for our writing. When we create an article and put it online, we see immediate results, at least within days or weeks. We either get money for it, claps or comments, we get to watch the views increase. It’s a stroke to our ego.
Working on a manuscript is going in for a long-term commitment, especially if you’re an unpublished author. This might never turn into something. There is the chance that no one will read this, just like your other two finished manuscripts. The gratification is so delayed that it feels out of reach.
The solution: This form of productive procrastination (doing another task in place of the one you intended) can be harmless sometimes. You’re still getting stuff done, and you’re still writing today. But in the long-term, it can mean you’re not moving towards your goals and ambitions.
Aim to provide short-term gratification for working on your manuscript. It could be simple, like ticking it off your to-do list or having a reward for doing so. You could hold yourself accountable by using social media or telling a friend. You could plan in your goals, each week or month, to feel the gratification of accomplishing them. You could share pieces of your manuscript to get feedback or the praise you require or discuss it with a fellow creative.
Time commitment pales in comparison to the effort commitment required by working on your manuscript. Writing an article can be far more manageable. You don’t have to place yourself in a character’s shoes as you’re using your own voice. You don’t have to consider events that have happened or will, and you use a lot of easy research as you go.
Diving back into where you left off can seem daunting—picking up the pieces and continuing with them. It feels far easier to write an article, either based on your own experiences or using research and knowledge. Maybe it’s because it’s nonfiction, and that requires different brain efforts. Either way, you can easily feel too emotionally or physically tired to approach your manuscript, and instead, you settle for an article.
The solution: Firstly, make sure that you’re getting your rest. We all have days that are more difficult, like today when my depression really has a hold on me. It’s okay to have an off day, or to need a more manageable task today. Writing on the days you feel depressed is difficult.
You can make working on your manuscript into an easier task. This involves how you look at it as a whole, as well as preparation. Don’t overthink the process of writing your first draft; don’t try to sound a certain way or ‘be’ a writer. Just write, like you would an article, and apply this skillset to it. Don’t make your manuscript something that you fear, but rather a familiar friend. There is plenty of time for editing, don’t fret just yet. But preparation can also help. When you’re feeling good and able, do the lion’s share of researching or planning your plot. This makes writing more effortless as you’re not confronted with decisions of what should happen or how something should go; instead, you’re filling in the gaps.
Writing should be something you enjoy. Even when you have to nudge, or even shove, yourself into it, you should feel fulfilled afterwards. If you’re having the kind of day when that really isn’t the case, acknowledge it and accept that this happens. The writing you would do on such a day wouldn’t accurately showcase your ability anyway.
But if you’re slipping into ‘productive procrastination’, working on an article to avoid your manuscript just because it feels more manageable, you need to start fighting this urge. Decide ahead of time what you’ll work on today and stick to it. Break writing a manuscript down into the same manageable chunks. The only difference is that the satisfaction and results you’ll receive from finishing your manuscript will be far superior.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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