Tricia Sullivan is an American science fiction writer living in Britain. Her latest novel, Lightborn, will be published by Orbit Books UK in October 2010. Her website is www.triciasullivan.com and she also administers the martial arts site www.morrisnoholdsbarred.com.
From Luc: The following is a post recommended by a friend last week; it does a great job of capturing the frustrations of competing priorities and competing parts of life. Having read and enjoyed it, I asked for (and received) permission to reproduce it here. You can see the original at http://triciasullivan.livejournal.com/97143.html.
One of the big frictions in my life arises from the antipathy between the damn Buttheads. Butthead #1 is the creative bit and Butthead #2 is the bit that actually gets me by in the world. These two posts, poles, blockheads, cannot seem to be in the same place at the same time. They butt heads. They’re Buttheads. Either/both, as needed.
When Butthead #1 is in charge, I’m writing well. There is cotton wool between me and the world. I go glassy-eyed. I cease to care about trivia like laundry, the bank balance, the calendar, anyone else’s problems, world affairs, or the clock. If a thought about any of these things intrudes, I push it away, because thinking about anything real is a sign that Butthead #2 is gaining control. Butthead #2 is always trying to steal my writing mojo so that my family can have clean socks.
Before I had a family, when in deadline mode I’d accumulate masses of laundry. I’d eat whatever I could find, usually toast and canned soup and chocolate (of course) and I’d put everything else on hold while I wandered around in a thinking fog. It was wonderful!
Now I’m responsible for a family of five. Laundry, dishes, cleaning, meals, all have to be done every day without fail as an absolute minimum. Business stuff with Steve goes on in the background constantly. So Butthead #2 threatens to take over my life every day. I keep her in her place in two ways. First, I do all the routine household work that I can on autopilot, in zombie-mode. Second, I procrastinate. Anything I can put off until school holidays, I put off. Because during school holidays, I’m not going to be able to write much anyway.
When I’m writing, procrastination is my friend. During the school year, I let Butthead #2 note down things that need doing on a list. This list becomes the Epic List. I save it up all year, and then in the summer I execute it. This is quite brutal.
Butthead #1 pretty much gets executed for this time, too. She’s shoved underground and told to be quiet. Theoretically she is resting, but it never feels restful in my life because Butthead #2 has me running around doing the Epic List.
The interesting thing about the List is how every item on it glows with the energy of procrastination. This year, some of the items were very minor tasks, but because I’d treated them like radioactive waste and refused to touch them while Butthead #1 was playing artiste, they began to acquire a creepy sort of power. You know, they loomed.
And there develops an over-riding sensation that casts parenthetical arms around the whole list, an ozone smell. It’s the humming power of procrastination. With every act of procrastination, the List and every task on it become bigger, more difficult to surmount. The List begins to whisper evil things.
I’ve been doing battle with this bloody list all summer. At first I’d look at it and feel tired, faintly sick. The items ranged from physical chores to administrivia to phone calls to big projects to shopping, and because its fields of control ranged from Steve’s business to my own to our household affairs to our kids, I felt like my entire life was somehow trapped in the power of this List. Stuff seemed to be coming at me from all directions.
Every long-deferrred chore that I confronted provoked some kind of anxiety. Resistance. But then, when I started pushing through and seeing that I could get this stuff done and struck off the list, there came one zing after another: the release of trapped energy. The list became like a video game. Each task was another opponent, with energy crystal rewards. Once she gets going, Butthead #2 loves this shit. She’s been going medieval on the List all summer. I think she’s a bit swollen with power, actually.
And that’s the problem with Butthead #2. She doesn’t know when to stop. I don’t like the person I become when my life centers on getting this stuff done. I don’t like how I think or feel. It’s all too…organized and efficient.
The writing has suffered, too. Butthead #1 is getting bored and weepy, underground. So, in a week, when the kids go back to school, I’ll start building a new list of stuff that I’ll refuse to do because it kills my work.
Being an artist is a lot like being a janitor. Make a mess; clean it up; make a mess. Procrastination is my friend in one part of this cycle, and my enemy in the other. But the upside is that, once Butthead #1 gets back in the driver’s seat, she will be the procrastinated-upon one. She will have the pent-up power. Or so I hope. Because September’s coming, and I’m getting increasingly agitated as I realize I’ve been procrastinating on my writing for several weeks now.
How about you? What kinds of things make you procrastinate?
Some Willpower Engine articles that touch on subjects in Tricia’s post:
- 6 Steps to Overcome Procrastination
- Are Creative People More Likely to Procrastinate?
- Flow: What It Feels Like to Be Perfectly Motivated
- 7 Tricks for Starting in on an Unappealing Task
- Self-Motivation Techniques for Starting (or Restarting) a Big Project You’ve Been Avoiding
- Getting Rid of the Little, Distracting Tasks
- Why Tasks Lists Fail