You’re invited to this free reading when I will join other Portland writers in sharing our stories. Hope to see you there.
Thought for the day:
“It took [Frank] Bidart years to understand that anything that went through him could be included in a poem. . . .” — From “Golden Boy,” an article by Hilton Als that appeared in the September 8, 2017 issue of the New Yorker.
Like anyone, writers occasionally suffer from procrastination. They want to write but don’t.
This Psychology Today article offers some useful tips for preventing procrastination. And who knows, you may also find them helpful when it comes to making that dental appointment or cleaning out your closet.
The 5 Most Common Reasons We Procrastinate…and how to overcome them, starting today
Posted Jun 17, 2016
Procrastination refers to the voluntary postponement of an unpleasant task, often against one’s better judgment (Steel, 2007). When a person procrastinates, they pass the buck to their future self. Although some procrastinators claim that they work best under pressure, perhaps they also need the rush of a last-minute deadline to get started.
The costs of procrastination are often considerable. Evidence suggests that the habit of leaving things until the last minute generally results in low-quality work performance and reduced well-being (Tice and Baumeister, 1997). For example, students who routinely procrastinate consistently get lower grades (Ariely & Wertenbroch, 2002). Procrastinators also tend to postpone getting appropriate medical treatments and diagnostic tests (Sirois and Pychyl, 2013).
Why, when so little good comes of procrastinating, do we do it so much? Here are five reasons:
- Absence of structure.
The lack of imposed direction that’s become common in the workplace might contribute to the increase in procrastination. The collapse of the delay between impulse and decision inevitably favors impulse (e.g., checking Facebook instead of doing work); our easy online access makes urges easy to gratify. One solution to this is to design your environment in a way that makes your desired goal more likely to happen. For example, if you tend to check your email or Facebook too often, make it difficult for yourself to connect to the Internet.
- Unpleasant tasks.
The most significant predictor of procrastination is a task that’s considered unpleasant, boring, or uninteresting (e.g., Christmas shopping, laundry, or exercise). How can you complete your unpleasant tasks on time? One strategy is to divide and conquer. Shift your focus from the ultimate goal to a series of easy to complete, intermediate tasks (Andreou and White, 2010). Another strategy is to form an if-then plan to automate goal striving—e.g., if I turn on the computer, I will first work on my assignment for 45 minutes (Gollwitzer, 2004).
Another important factor is the timing of the reward and punishment—meaning that the point of choice and the associated consequences are separated in time. A gap like this produces internal conflict between future and present interests. Procrastination occurs when present efforts are highly noticeable in comparison with future ones, leading individuals to postpone tasks without anticipating that when it comes time to do them, the required action will be delayed yet again (Ainslie, 2001). A smoker who wants to quit can spend many years having “one last cigarette.” The solution is to find a way to make long-term goals feel more like short-term rewards. For example, the painful moment of getting into a cold swimming pool can overpower the delayed benefits of doing morning laps. To overcome that resistance, you need to associate the activity with the positive mood effect of exercise.
Avoidance is a well-known form of coping with anxiety. Procrastinators may postpone getting started because of a fear of failure. Evidence indicates that procrastination is associated with high levels of stress (Sirois, 2007). To relieve stress, procrastinators shift their focus away from the future toward more immediate rewards in order to avoid high-priority, yet challenging tasks. Finding ways to reduce stress can strengthen an individual’s capacity to reduce procrastination (Sirois and Pychyl, 2013).
When difficulties arise, people with weak self-confidence easily develop doubts about their ability to accomplish the task at hand, while those with strong beliefs are more likely to continue their efforts. When low self-confidence causes people to avoid activities, they miss opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills (Ericsson, 2016). For example, a college student with a low sense of confidence for math may avoid enrollment in upper-level math courses. The decision not to enroll deprives the student of valuable skills development experiences. In contrast, goal attainment may raise feelings of self-confidence, which can result in a person setting even more challenging goals.
Ainslie, G. (2001). Breakdown of Will. Cambridge University Press.
Ariely, D., & Wertenbroch, K. (2002). Procrastination, deadlines, and performance: Self-control by precommitment. Psychological Science, 13, 219–224.
Andreou, Chrisoula & White, Mark D. (ed.), 2012. The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination. Oxford University Press.
Ericsson A., Pool R. (2016) Peak: Secret from the new science of expertise. An Eamon Dolan Book. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Gollowitzer, Peter M., et al., (2004). Planning and the implementation of goals. In Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and applications. Guilford Press.
Sirois, F., & Pychyl, T. (2013). Procrastination and the Priority of Short-Term Mood Regulation: Consequences for Future Self. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(2), 115-127.
Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 65–94.
Tice, D. M., & Baumeister, R. F. (1997). Longitudinal study of procrastination, performance, stress, and health: the costs and benefits of dawdling. Psychological Science, 8 (6), 454–458.
Mondays: October 9-December 18, 2017 (No class November 13). 2:30-5 p.m. Hollywood district of Portland, OR. $200/10 weeks
Wednesdays: October 11-December 20, 2017 (No class November 22). 6:30-9 p.m. Hollywood district of Portland, OR. $200/10 weeks
Whether you’re working on a novel or interested in short stories, memoir, essays, articles or other forms of fiction or nonfiction, Kickstart Your Writing offers a supportive environment in which you can work on specific writing projects.
Students set weekly goals; read their work aloud; and receive positive, helpful feedback from the instructor and other students. The exact location is provided upon registration. The class can be repeated.
· To pay by check, send check (made out to Nancy Woods) to Nancy Woods, P.O. Box 18032, Portland, OR 97218.
· To pay via PayPal, send payment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
· To pay via Venmo, send payment to email@example.com.
For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org, 971-255-2049.
What students say about Kickstart Your Writing:
“The class has really helped me make writing a priority and take myself seriously. I was surprised to see how much I responded to having the deadlines of reading in class! Thank you!” — Lisa Serrano
“The class helped me focus on establishing writing goals and meeting them. Nancy is a very knowledgeable teacher as well as a supportive coach. I learned so much from other students in the class. I valued the diversity in this class — different backgrounds, variety of written material and styles made the class interesting and challenging.” — K. E.
I hope you can attend this September 21 reading in Portland, Oregon. I’ll host and read.
A funny/sad story by one of my students:
Worst Gift Ever
By D. L. King
I just had to have a bike. Every eight-and-a-half year old boy had a bike. It was a rule or something. Even girls had bikes. I had to do everything just like all the other kids, or I’d be different. I couldn’t be different. I hated being different.
In the summer, the neighborhood kids rode their bikes in the street in front of our house. I sat on a rock and watched them circle round and round, listening to their happiness. If only I could ride a bike, they’d like me. Then I’d be a real boy.
One time, Dad found me in the toy aisle of W.T. Grant, staring up at a baby-blue two-wheeler with chrome handlebars and black plastic grips. I loved the smell of its new rubber tires and fresh paint. Dad stared at me for a minute then said, “Let’s go.” I followed him out to the car.
“Robbie got a new bike, Dad,” I hinted one night after supper. “It’s a purple metal-flake Schwinn with a banana seat. It even has three speeds. It’s really cool.” I threw in a pitiful sigh for effect. He gave me his usual don’t-bother-me look and hid behind his newspaper. Dad hardly ever smiled. Especially at me.
Mom was always mad about something. I could never tell if she’d give me just a cold stare, or start slamming cupboard doors. I didn’t bother her with my dreams anymore.
At school, I daydreamed about Christmas morning and my new bike. I’d hop into the living room, our plastic tree glowing with fake happiness, perfectly wrapped presents under the green branches. And out in front, my beautiful baby-blue bike, leaning on its kickstand. Christmas would be happy this year! I almost felt normal.
When the real Christmas Eve finally came, me and my brother were ordered to bed early. Mom and Dad had to stay up late wrapping presents and putting my bike together. Then they’d park it where the whole family could see how much they liked me.
Morning came. I hopped up the stairs, around the railing, into the living room. My heart pounded, full of excitement and dreams. I’d finally show the neighborhood kids I was just like them.
There was no bike.
In front of the tree was a stupid wagon. It wasn’t even blue. It was red. I hated red. It wasn’t even a Radio Flyer wagon. It was a Murray wagon. Who ever heard of a Murray wagon? It had four wheels, not two. It didn’t have a chain or pedals. How was I supposed to keep up with the neighborhood kids in a dumb old wagon?
I got the message. I’d never be a real boy. Mom and Dad might as well have stuck a big sign in our front yard: A stupid little kid lives here. He thinks he can pedal a two-wheeled bike with only one leg.
(A guest post by Jean Harkin, JPHARKIN@aol.com)
Oops! I may have put the cart before the horse. In August 2016 I published my short story collection, Night in Alcatraz: and Other Uncanny Tales. Not until April 2017 did I begin research for my blog series on self-publishing. Maybe I should have asked the questions before I published. I learned much about self-publishing by writing my blog series. Fortunately I did a few things right, but I also made some goofs in publishing my book.
1) Just before I self-published my book, successful authors were advising other writers to establish a social networking presence. Dragging my feet, I joined Facebook. I also started an author page on Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/jeanatwritersmill), where I post my blog and feature my books. Acquiring a blog site on Goodreads was easier for me than signing up on Blogger, WordPress, Weebly, GoDaddy or other popular web hosting sites.
2) I began organizing and revising my stories in March 2016. I did something right: I made sure all the stories were edited. But I did something wrong: I didn’t state on the opening page (with copyright info, etc.) that the stories were edited and by whom, although I did note where many of the stories were previously published.
3) To print and publish my book, I used Createspace. That was a good decision in some ways, bad in others.
Good: Createspace offers user-friendly uploading and production; free ISBN number for print copy; e-book made available on Kindle; automatic exposure on Amazon and Amazon international; print copy available on demand to buyers through other online sellers; and the author can purchase their own copies direct from Createspace at a reduced price. An especially nice perk is the fast, friendly and professional help service Createspace provides by phone or online.
Bad: I recently discovered that independent booksellers will not stock books printed by Createspace or affiliated in any way with Amazon. Those booksellers see Amazon as a market bully. The indie sellers can’t sell my print books as cheaply as Amazon can and still make a worthwhile profit. Either I or the store would be shorted. I haven’t been able to determine, however, why the walk-in Amazon store at Washington Square in Portland, Oregon, won’t stock my book and won’t respond to my queries.
4) About marketing: While royalties on my book sales slowly accumulate, I haven’t received one payment. Apparently I must wait until $100 is reached; meanwhile Amazon makes money on each sale. (There may be a way to collect payments through direct bank deposit, but I haven’t checked that out.)
What I did right (but not perfectly): I offered my book for sale at local venues, including the Oregon Historical Society’s annual Christmas Cheer book festival. I’ve gotten the word out about my book—most recently to my high school alumni magazine and on the website of Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA). I recently joined that group—another smart move. Of course my book, Night in Alcatraz; and Other Uncanny Tales is featured on my Goodreads author page.
So far, so good as far as reviews on Night in Alcatraz: and Other Uncanny Tales. I’m grateful to readers for 5 stars on Amazon and 4.5 on Goodreads.
By nature a planner, I’m the queen of bulleted checklists. I love calendars and spend a lot of time filling them out.
In many ways, planning can be helpful. Scheduling my time—deciding what writing project to focus on next and when and where I’m going to work on it—means when I sit down to write I’m ready and know what to do. I jump right in.
Planning also reduces stress because after I assign each project a spot on my calendar, I don’t need to think about it, although I might. There are lots of useful, healthy reasons to plan. But it can also hold you back, pen you in and prevent you from reaching out. Which is why spontaneity also has its place, along with throwing caution to the wind and being less rigid.
So every once in a while I turn on my computer and open a random file. I did just that recently and came across a draft of the blog you’re reading right now.