Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Dubious Art of Procrastination

"Procrastination is something best put off until tomorrow." ~Gerald Vaughan

A fellow writer asked recently when I would write an essay about settling on one Work In Progress instead of just piddling around with four. *grin* Thanks for the topic, Celia!

Ah, procrastination. I could do a week of essays on that particular subject but I think I'll wait. *wink*

Truth is, while it seems like a joke, the urge to avoid tasks, whether they be pleasurable or onerous, strikes us all. Dr. Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, identifies three basic types of procrastinators.

• Thrill seekers—those who put off tasks until the deadline is breathing down their necks. Like a race-car driver careening towards the finish line, these procrastinators thrive on the adrenalin rush.

• Avoiders—these procrastinators often fear not measuring up. Their self-worth is dependent on the opinions of others. Better to be thought of as someone who is simply missing a deadline or not reaching potential than possibly being seen as mediocre or worse yet a failure.

• 'Decisional procrastinators'—those who balk at the fork in the road. Fearing the consequences of the wrong decision means they feel safer not making any decision at all.

I've definitely qualified for an avoider (oh, those self-esteem issues!), yet more often it's the fork in the road where I balk. This is why writing the first draft is such a white-knuckle challenge while the revisions are a delight. By now, 'The Dreaded Decisions' are far behind me so the focus can be directed towards the delicious crafting of words. Whew!

"I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence but it comes from within. It is there all the time." ~ Anna Freud

Now for those addicted to the adrenalin rush, the real question is: "Do I thrive on this crisis-oriented energy or does it lead to excessive stress?"

Obviously, if you are a race car driver, the rush is truly a thrill. However, if you find that you get antsy when there's a lull or realize that for some darn reason your life is always bursting with one crisis or another it might be time to re-examine your focus. Being addicted to adrenalin can mean that you seek out situations or relationships that keep you on edge. It can lead to slap-dash work where you whip out a blog or knock out edits in record time but miss numerous typos that are glaringly obvious to others.

For avoiders and 'decisional' procrastinators, one major revelation is this—the avoided task will haunt you and burn up more hours than the tasks you actually finish. We'll put so much energy into justifying the avoidance that in the end we may end up truly exhausted without accomplishing a thing! Argh.

"Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task." ~William James

So here's one tip right off the bat. If you're stuck in a procrastination phase, at the very least push the avoidance from the unconscious (which leads us to play computer games, seek out snacks, chat on the phone, etc.) to the conscious. What I mean by this is Deliberately Procrastinate and Choose To Accomplish Something Else. Tackle the bathtub that needs cleaning or clear off the clutter from your desk. Answer correspondence or go through the mail. However, do set a time limit on your avoidance. One hour or perhaps one day. First off, you'll feel loads better if you've accomplished something positive instead of playing solitaire, plus seeing that sparkling tub or clutter-free desk can lift your spirits considerably.

"Some people plant in the spring and leave in the summer. If you're signed up for a season, see it through. You don't have to stay forever, but at least stay until you see it through." --Jim Rohn

Next tip: Just Do It.

"To think too long about doing a thing often becomes its undoing." ~Eva Young

This is where you're getting sneaky with your Self. Just like a mom might puree veggies to get finicky kids to eat (nothing new, my mom used the blender to whip together carrots and mushrooms to add to the stew), we might need to take steps to jump over the avoidance hurdle and hit the ground running.

One secret is simply, don't think about it. Just Do It.


Whether it's writing, exercising, or cleaning, the more we anticipate doing something we're avoiding, the more time we have to talk ourselves out of it. Tell yourself instead that you will begin writing at This Time O'clock and when the appointed minute rolls around, sit down without thinking about it and begin work.

"The great composer does not set to work because he is inspired, but becomes inspired because he is working. Beethoven, Wagner, Bach and Mozart settled down day after day to the job in hand with as much regularity as an accountant settles down each day to his figures. They didn't waste time waiting for inspiration." ~Ernest Newman

If you're trying to decide between ideas or manuscripts and you absolutely cannot choose one based on preference, jot down working titles or even numbers on strips of paper, put them in a hat and draw one. Work only on that one for a specific amount of time. You can give yourself a week or a month or whatever works for you. Sometimes knowing you 'only' have to focus for a particular length of time gives you a psychological out. Honestly, could we ever convince ourselves to exercise if there was no time limit? But knowing you 'only' have to bike for five minutes or a half-hour gives you a finish line. Give yourself a finish line even if it's only a stopping point.

"If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it." ~Olin Miller

"We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once." ~Calvin Coolidge

Most importantly, be as kind and supportive to yourself as you are to others. Many of us fall into a habit of self-criticism, berating ourselves for what we don't accomplish rather than being supportive. If your good friend said she felt like a failure because she didn't accomplish the goal she set, would you say, "Well, that's because you're such a loser!" *wink*

When those negative thoughts invade your consciousness, deliberately replace them with supportive, positive and encouraging words. Believe it or not, many of the most successful people make it a habit to give themselves pep-talks. Although it's lovely when we receive outer validation, we can't depend on it. You Must Be Your Own Best Friend.

"Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them - every day begin the task anew." --Saint Francis de Sales

Towards that end, surround yourself with friends or colleagues who also support your goals and provide the encouragement you need to stay on track. Do your best to avoid those whose criticisms discourage you whether by their actions or their words. My friends know not to call when I work, and when they do call they always ask if I'm in the midst of writing. Their actions declare their support as much as their kind words.

"Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher." –Oprah Winfrey

Now, you tell me. How do you tackle the procrastination bug? When vacillating between manuscripts, how exactly do you select which one to write? What's your favorite method for staying on track?

Here's to a wonderful week bursting with productivity and focus!

Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between The Lines.

For those who love to study the craft, you might find this of interest:

Romance University's Weekly Class Line-up.

The faculty at Romance University is pleased to announce our line-up for this week. We hope you'll stop by at .

Mon, 7/27 Crafting Your Career: Bestselling author Bob Mayer will discuss career strategies.

Wed, 7/29 Anatomy of the Male Mind: Bob Mayer returns to share his thoughts on the male/female creative process.

Fri, 7/29 - Chaos Theory of Writing: Bestselling Author Allison Brennan joins us with Breaking Rules to Break in or Out.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Courage Is Doing What You're Afraid To Do

"We conquer, not in any brilliant fashion, we conquer by continuing." --- George Matheson

Last week, my first draft was ready to be finished. A scene or two—the Big Confrontation—and I'd be done. Easy! Whew! Couldn't wait to finish. Really. *cough*

On Monday, I sat at my computer, fingers at the ready and froze. Couldn't force myself to type a single word. My eyes scanned the outline, read through the previous days' writing and…nothing. After answering emails, visiting blogs, responding to comments, and a lengthy game of online spades, I gave up. That night, I confided to my husband my panic. He listened and advised me not to put too much stock in one day's procrastination, just pick it up again tomorrow.

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow." ~Mary Anne Radmacher

Tuesday morning, as I sipped my tea, my heart jumped once again at the thought of putting fingers to keyboard and wrapping up my first draft. ARGH! Then it struck me with the force of a wooden spoon knocking sense into my inner child. I was scared of screwing up.

"I have accepted fear as a part of life - specifically the fear of change.... I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back." ~Erica Jong

Yes, this was only my first draft but my panicky mind wasn't up for rationality. Once again, I let myself forget that these words aren't carved into stone. This isn't a sculpture made out of precious marble—one slip and my chisel knocks off the freaking nose! These are simply words. Flexible, interchangeable, and definitely erase-able words. Whew. I reminded myself, once again, that This Is Just My First Draft. Anything can be changed. The only imperative here is to keep moving forward, one word, one page, one draft at a time.

"The first draft is a skeleton--just bare bones. It's like the very first rehearsal of a play, where the director moves the actors around mechanically to get a feel of the action. Characters talk without expression. In the second draft, I know where my characters are going, just as the director knows where his actors will move on the stage. But it's still rough and a little painful to read. By the third draft, the whole thing is taking shape. I have enough glimmers from the second draft to know exactly what I want to say. There may be two or three more drafts after the third to polish it up. But the third is the one where it all comes together for me." -- by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

When I compose these essays, I love sprinkling quotes throughout. The reason is simple. Whenever we feel fear, or feel blocked, or feel lost, or feel like giving up, just knowing that countless others have crossed the river of doubt threatening to sweep us away is a blessed relief. We Are Not Alone. The fear of making mistakes has existed since cavemen actually did chip into stone.

As soon as the door opened, revealing the source of my fear, I buckled down and put my fingers to work. I told myself repeatedly that it could all be changed later if need be while hunkering down and typing with feverish urgency. Suddenly, the need to meet my goal—to finish the first draft that week—burned brightly enough to diminish the shadow of fear. The result? I finished the first draft. When I counted what had been completed that day, to my astonishment, I had eighteen freshly typed pages. My jaw nearly hit the floor. Eighteen freaking pages in one day. Wow.

Facing my fear down not only made it possible to meet my goal, the push resulted in such momentum I'd surpassed my own expectations. Just like a hero in any adventure story, my heart beat faster as I clutched that newly won victory to my soul and realized just what I was capable of accomplishing.

"Courage is being scared to death... and saddling up anyway." ~John Wayne

"Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared." ~Edward Vernon Rickenbacker

There will be times when the fear takes hold and tempts you to run away. The surety of giving up will seem much safer than the unpredictability of striving to meet your goal. Perhaps others will judge your choices and fill you with doubt, feeding your insecurity with shadowy predictions based on questionable perspectives. Many a writer's courage has been diminished by the fear that their story, their style, or their genre is unmarketable or passé. Many a writer has quelled in fear that the dream held in a quivering heart is impossible to reach. The truth? There are huge success stories and grandiose flops. Not everyone will hit the bestseller list but those that do have these traits in common: perseverance, patience, enthusiasm and unbeatable courage. You must face that fear head on and move forward.

"Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties." --- Bonnie Friedman

Every dream can be achieved. Whether it's inventing the light bulb (Edison), creating a unique 'themed' amusement park (Disney), creating the first sitcom featuring an interracial couple filmed in front of a live studio audience (Lucille Ball) or hitting that NY Times bestseller list, just like two of my personal heroes, Sherryl Woods and Allison Brennan.

"Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears."—Les Brown

Take a moment right now and think about it. This is your decision and your life. What do YOU want to do? Live your dream or live your fears? If you choose to live your dream, repeat after me: I choose to be a success! I choose to succeed! I choose to live my dream!

Next step, take action:

"Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy." --Dale Carnegie

Remember always that what you believe in—your success or your failure—influences what you will create. People who succeed do so because they believe that they are already a success. As you sit down with fingers at the keyboard or curled around your favorite pen, repeat after me:

I am a success. A successful writer keeps writing until she reaches success. I am a successful writer and I will keep writing and reach my goal of success!

"Whatever a person's mind dwells on intensely and with firm resolve, that is exactly what he becomes." ~ Shankaracharya ~

Now you tell me… Have you had moments when blind panic seized you? How did you face your own fear? Did you ever think of giving up and if so, what drove you to keep writing?

Ready for a successful new week? Let's get writing!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Take a Leap of Faith

"If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you." ~~Arthur McAuliff

Ah yes, the thrill of beginning a new venture. Whether we're struggling with the beginning throes of an idea, approaching the second draft of our WIP with trepidation, or taking a deep breath and sending out those queries, there's nothing quite like the heart-pounding leap-of-faith every writer experiences.

We take chances. We take risks. We're pushing forward without a map or even a navigation system! We're off to discover new lands hoping we have the wit to dislodge our ship if we hit dry land. We push despite our sometimes overwhelming desire to set down anchor and avoid the uncertain seas.

"A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for." --William Shedd

We take chances. We take risks. As writers, we need to face those fears, not only for ourselves but also for our readers. Which is why we can't play it safe. Not with our selves, not even with our characters. We throw them in jail, threaten them with exposure, heartache, death, frame-ups, poverty, imprisonment, even… *gasp* Meddling In-laws!!

So why do we do it? Why do we push ourselves past all reason, past the fear, and past the obstacles?

"It is never too late to be what you might have been." --George Eliot


That one little word reverberates within our souls. It is our Destiny… We know it. We feel it. We Are WRITERS. This is what we are Meant to do. To create worlds. To populate them with people. To preside over their lives with a twisted kind of ruthless compassion forcing them into perilous circumstances designed to not only challenge their strength but to awaken within them a greater understanding. And through that process, within our own hearts, a seed of understanding blossoms as we grow and evolve with our characters.

"Eighty percent of success is showing up." --Woody Allen

One word at a time. One sentence. One draft. One book. One query at a time… There's only one way to succeed, and that is to show up and do the work.

One draft:

"If at first you don't succeed, you're running about average. " ~~M.H. Alderson

One query:

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~~Winston Churchill

As we approach yet another week, let's acknowledge the strength it takes to make that "Leap of Faith" with every word we type. It's easy to scold and chide ourselves for freaking out over the endless edits, the yet-to-be created plot-line, the wavering POV, not to mention the fear over facing rejection. Replace that chagrin with pride! We're facing a fear that few will manage to overcome. We're pushing past obstacles that many will embrace as an excuse to give up. Not us!

Why? We take chances. We take risks. We Are WRITERS...

Speaking of risks, agent Jessica Faust mentioned how summer is the perfect time to catch up on queries. Hmm... Maybe now's a good time to
hit 'Send'. *grin*

So tell me, what do you consider the biggest 'Leap of Faith'? Writing the first draft? The second draft? Sending it out to your crit partners? Sending the query? Or all of the above?

Here's to another wonderful week bursting with opportunity!

Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between The Lines.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

You're Either In or You're Out

"There are only two options regarding commitment. You're either in or out. There's no such thing as a life in-between."Pat Riley

I've been thinking quite a bit about commitment. Maybe because, like most writers, there are days when I feel I'm surely ready for that padded room! Hah!

Yet the idea of commitment is one that I've danced around, perhaps like many here. On a good day, I'm there. I *get* it. I believe. Then the clouds roll in and the raindrops pour down my cheeks as I wonder if I'm truly cut out to be A Writer.

In or out, woman. There's no in-between.

To me, that's what marks a true writer. A friend once said to me (paraphrasing here), that Real Writers stick to it.

"Success depends on your backbone, not your wishbone." –Author Unknown

I've had my share of doubts. I hit my slump and wondered… Did I have the Right Stuff to make magic happen on the printed page? Did I have the *eye* to clarify my vision? Hell, did I really have a vision to begin with or is this just a fanciful dream? Horrors! Had I become one of those people who sneer, "I could write a book easy," only to toss my dream aside out of fear or insecurity?


"The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential... these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence." --Eddie Robinson

There are a number of people who helped push me past that wall. Some offered support at my request, others unknowingly brought forth a wisdom that radiated like moonbeams, chasing away shadows and illuminating my darkest night. Thanks to the writers I am privileged to know, I reconnected with my will to win—the urge to reach my full potential. *smile*

I also realized (thanks, Misty) that hitting a wall may just be part of the process. Which is exactly why a writer needs to commit. This is as much a relationship as the one I share with my husband. For better or worse, sickness and health, richer or poorer…

"Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write." --Elie Wiesel

My friend Tessy is an incredible example of one who cannot live without writing. Listening to her tickled the memory of what drove me to the keyboard so long ago. My thirst to create worlds. Ah-ha! Take that you pesky ideas rolling around my brain. Let's toss you onto the page and see where we shall fly.

"So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land!"J. M. Barrie (from Peter Pan)

Commitment is what marks us as writers. Writing requires time, effort, focus and a great deal of faith. We're like explorers crawling into a cave with nothing but the wavering beam of a flashlight to light our way. Without faith, we might turn back. Without persistence, we might give up. Which is exactly why writers need to commit: to writing that sentence, to filling up the page, to finishing the chapter, to wrapping up the book.

And of course, that's just the beginning! Re-read and revise. Cut some scenes, flesh out others. Yet… the joy of it. Ah, the tingling rush of pleasure as the eye follows the plot. This is magic of the best sort.

Did you know that scans have shown that our brains respond to imagined circumstances just as if they were real? When we write stories, and others read them, well… We are creating worlds here, my friends. This is True Magic.

Which is why…

"It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end."Ursula K. LeGuin

Let's recommit to our journey and relish the spectacular joy of writing!


"It is impossible to discourage the real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write." ~Sinclair Lewis

And that about sums it up.

This week let's make a conscious decision to commit to our writing. Do you, budding author, take this profession to love and to write?

Let's do it, let's fall in love all over again!

Remember, We Are Writers. And what do writers do? They WRITE. So let's Go-go-GO!

Have a great writing week, everyone!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between The Lines.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rock and Roll is Here to Stay

My monthly blog for Pop Culture Divas is posted!

Hop over and read Rock and Roll is Here to Stay. *wink*

Have a rockin' Fourth of July, everyone!

Chiron O'Keefe