28 Days of Thesis Updates: Day Ten

So, yesterday. Oh, god, let’s not talk about yesterday. It wasn’t fun. Six hundred words and some insomnia, plus some word-count related angst (goal for day ten: 11000 words; actual words written: 6101). I have that awful, loomy feeling of things piling up around me again – not just the mountain of thesis related work, but of everything else that needs doing that isn’t getting done. It was the kind of day for which tetris, mindsweeper and other procrastinator games were invented – fortunately I have neither on my computer, which spared me somewhat; I have a freakin’ black-belt when it comes to procrastination, so I do my best to remove empty temptations like the above.

In lieu of actual content, I give you one of the best descriptions of the procrastination process ever, courtesy of Russel T. Davies:

“How do I know when to start writing? I leave it till the last minute. And then I leave it some more. Eventually, I leave it till I’m desperate. That’s really the word, desperate. I always thing, I’m not ready to write it, I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s just a jumble of thoughts in a state of flux, there’s no story, I don’t know how A connects to B, I don’t know anything! I get myself into a genuine state of panic. Except panic sounds exciting. It sounds all running-around and adrenalized. This is more like a black cloud of fear and failure. Normally, I leave it till the deadline, and I haven’t even started writing. This has become, over the years, a week beyond the deadline, or even more. It can be a week – or weeks – past the delivery date, and I haven’t started writing. In fact, I don’t have delivery dates any more. I go by the start-of-production date. I consider that to be my real deadline. And then I miss that. It’s a cycle that I cannot break. I simply can’t help it. It makes my life miserable.

My inability to start on time is crippling. Any social event – people’s birthdays, drinks with friends, family dos, anything – gets swept aside and cancelled, because there’s this voice inside my head screaming, ‘I HAVEN’T STARTED WRITING!’ I wake up, shower, have a coffee, watch the telly, go to town, buy some food, potter about, buy a magazine, come hom, e-mail, make phonecalls, watch more telly, and it goes on and on and on until I go to bed again, and the whole day is gone. It’s just vanished. Every single minute of the day, every sodding minute, is labelled with this depressing, lifeless, dull thought: I’m not writing. I make the time vanish. I don’t know why I do this. I even set myself little targets. At 1oam, I think, I’ll start at noon. At noon, I think, I’ll make it 4pm. At 4pm, I think, too late now, I’ll wit for tonight and work till late. And then I’ll use TV programmes as crutches – ooh, must watch this, must watch that – and then it’s 10pm and I think, well, start at midnight, that’s a good time. A good time!?A nice round number! At midnight, I despair and reckon its too late, and stay up despairing. I’ll stay that way till 2 or 3am, and then go to bed in a tight knot of frustration. The next day, the same thing. Weeks pass like that.” (The Writer’s Tale 2008: 55)

Every time I read that, I sit there thinking “yes, quite like that, actually,” except it’s not really. For starters, I’d use far fewer exclamation marks, and I’m usually pretty good at getting something written as long as I can reliably break it down into manageable parts (unless, of course, the deadline is self-imposed – those are always the first to disappear in the name of meeting external deadlines). For another, it seems remarkably dishonest; it’s like writer’s block, which is really just a way of saying  either I’m stuck and don’t know what happens next or  dear god, if I write this and it gets published people will read it and tell me what they think and it might not be good. It is a remarkably good description of yesterday, though, and my thorough inability to separate the next-thingness of the thesis from the overwhelming-wholeness of it. And, looking back on yesterday, I was both stuck and afraid of what happens when the thing gets finished, although knowing that helps not a jot when it comes to preventing today from mimicking yesterday, and my standard tactic of getting around this blockage (write something else until I come up with answers) isn’t terribly productive once you move away from the short story genre (same problem I have with novels, really). And yet, despite being behind, despite the endless hours of not-writing, despite the crippling fear, I look at the January 31st deadline and think, “sure, I’ll make that.” ‘Cause its impossible for me to conceptualise not making it, at this point, despite the fact that I’m not sure how to get from here to there.

So, yes, that was yesterday. I imagine today will be similar. And now it occurs to me that, one day, I really do want to do a paper that looks at the idea of procrastination and writer’s block from the writer’s POV.

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