“O procrastinating one, who thinketh not of the coming of death,
Devoting thyself to the useless doings of this life,
Improvident art thou in dissipating thy great opportunity;
Mistaken, indeed, will thy purpose be now if thou returnest
empty-handed (without having written) from this life:
Since the Holy Dharma (writing) is known to be thy true need,
Wilt thou not devote thyself to the Holy Dharma (writing)
~ The Tibetan Book of the Dead (parentheses mine)
Procrastination is one of the enduring challenges of human experience and behavior. It is viewed in American culture as a moral failing and is often equated with sloth, one of the seven deadly sins. Writers who procrastinate may castigate themselves for being “lazy,” but that label is misleading. Laziness implies a degree of contented relaxation that rarely applies to writers. The procrastination state is typically very dynamic and uncomfortable on the inside, even if nothing is happening on the outside.
It is useful to imagine that you have more than one “will” controlling the decisions you make, and that some of these “wills” have their own agendas that are at odds with the writing goals you have set. The other wills need to be acknowledged and contended with thoughtfully and skillfully. They are not stupid and in fact have made a career out of gaining control and outsmarting other intentions that might lead to discomfort.
We can view such psychological mechanisms as self-protection programs that have become too effective. That is because we have reinforced them continually over the years. We feel victimized and powerless because we don’t see that we are also the perpetrator.
If you are aware of your resistance as it occurs in the moment, you have the option of choosing to write in spite of it. This is easier said than done, and we never succeed 100 percent of the time, but every tiny victory serves to slow the cycle.
Begin with small steps that are only mildly uncomfortable, because feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, resentment, and dread are more likely to be activated if our goals and expectations are too ambitious. The best way to break the cycle at any point is to go ahead and write a little bit every day, even if some inner voice is screaming at you to pop a beer and turn on the TV. This takes some effort, but afterward you will feel good knowing that you have established some control over the process.
The effort is worth it, because who wants to “dissipate their great opportunity?”