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Old 01-10-2005, 05:04 PM   #1
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Default The difference between procrastination and steeping the tea

There are two kinds of resistance to writing pages. One is procrastination as a form of self-flagellation and denial - this is important to confront and overcome. The second is what I call steeping the tea - which is the time your unconscious needs to invisibly sort out your story while you are doing other reading tabloids, cleaning your workspace, walking your dog, doing the dishes, folding the laundry etc.

In my opinion (I do consistently identify these as OPINIONS, Boog, not the Torah from on high) procrastination is the result of several natural psychological reactions to engaging in a creative process.

-the writer becomes deeply afraid that a finished work will reveal their complete lack of talent; or worse, their mediocrity/beginner status. This creates a terrible cognitive dissonance with the grandiose visions most of us have when starting our writing life.

I know many erudite people with great potential that wound up choosing delusion over the gritty reality. They decided the pain of discovering they were imperfect writers was too great - they would rather take comfort in their critical mind and attack everyone else's work. Thus, the phenomenon of the critic! Be the functioning, beginner level writer you are today; not the perfect writer you are in some imagined tomorrow.

I disagree with Mr. Martell about a "tough love" approach to getting out of that stage however.

On the contrary, what you need is a practice of integration and self-love that will allow you to risk failure in the presence of a supportive audience (yourself).


What is procrastination?

Ex: Linda sets aside two hours tomorrow "to write". She makes sure she has enough paper in her computer and the correct software. She's collected her notes (if she has any). She says to herself, quietly: You are never going to make it as a writer if you don't write. Time is slipping away. Other writers are out there working hard, what's your @#%$ problem? In fact, she decides, in an act of penitence over her previous procrastinations, she raises the time to four hours and decides she will write ten pages.

The morning comes. She feels a nagging, annoyed feeling about the idea of sitting down at the computer. It feels burdensome, joyless, even repellant. She begins organizing a rationalization about needing to get her car check-up. She reasons that it is a "safety issue" and so she must go do the car thing before she begins. By the time she returns, it's an hour past the time she had intended to begin. Linda excoriates herself: you procrastinating loser! why did you take the damn car in? Now it's too late to "get anything done"! The day is ruined!

With a feeling of deep shame and numb rebellion against all the incessant self-criticism, Linda sits down with some Ben and Jerry's and watches Seinfeld on her TiVo.

Some version of the same scenario has played out in Linda's house for twenty or thirty different "writing sessions" she had set up over a period of two or three months. When she puts the words "write for three hours" in her to-do list she half knows it isn't going to happen. Her distress is acute.


This is a person with a terribly insidious procrastination disease. They are often extremely intelligent people; in fact the more intelligent someone is, I think, often the more emotionally taxing it is to try to write.

This person has long self-identified themselves as a "writer". But they tell everyone around them that they are procrastinators. They joke about it and turn it into an identity. It has probably been months or even years since the last actual, nuts and bolts writing session. This person will do a great deal of work that could be conceived of having something to do with writing - from a distance. Maybe they have researched the War of 1812 for four years, they have hundreds of hours of interviews, photographs, have organized access to databases, have identified key figures to focus on.

But the problem is, that the psychological pain of releasing to the imperfection of the writing grows in proportion to how much of our self-esteem is riding on it. A person who self-identifies as a writer, but doesnt' actually write (but if they have it is "unfinished", or they "can't show it to anyone", or "it's all in my head") has put a terrible burden on the process itself.

Their writing now has to live up to the Legend in their own Mind that they have created. And there is no competing with that Legend. When the Grandiosity has congeald, when this long term procrastinator has identified themselves as "genius" (largely due to their discerning eye in viciously criticizing other people's work; especially great masters; often the LTP will casually throw off "Dostoevsky was really just a puritan who didn't know how to edit". Sometimes they will just become professional critics so as to channel this negative energy into something that can make them a living. (yes, I am disqualifying all critical writing on art as a meaningful mode of creative expression)

The LTP has a disease as bad as alcoholism. Because the first step in defeating procrastination, whether it's the new kind or the long-term kind is to say the following:

1. "I am afraid to write"

Real simple. Five words. I can honestly say them quite often in my workspace. David Mamet says that every time he sits down at the typewriter he "feels like a fraud" and "feels nauseous." The first step to standing up to the Hitler in your head is to admit your own vulnerability. I'm scared to write. I'm scared I'll have no talent. I don't know where to start. I think my ideas are stupid. I don't know what to write.

Bringing these ideas into your conscious mind is a very powerful thing. Because it puts you in the posture of supplication. Not unlike AA, a relationship to a "higher power" is very useful to a writer. I don't think anyone who has experienced the Flow state of writing for many hours and having them pass in the blink of an eye would say that they were the ones that created the work. They would say things like "it felt like I was taking dictation"..."it felt like someone told me what to say"...and someone DID tell them what to say. A well-cared for unconscious.

So you've admitted you are afraid or uneasy about writing. You've acknowledged the possibility that you, your ego, CANNOT CONTROL the quality or even really, the quantity (unless you are just mindlessly writing words to meet some randomly defined goal) of your writing. That's up to your muse, your unconscious, God, some force outside of yourself. All you (your ego) can do is SET THE STAGE.


Turning procrastination into "steeping the tea" is like the change from when you are straining to look at an optical illusion to find the hidden picture, and then when you relax and stop trying, it appears instantly.

I am a professional writer. I cope with deadlines all the time (I have one right now, in fact). I always meet them. I have prodigious output. I've written 15 or so screenplays and done 5- 25 drafts on each one.

And I hardly ever write more than an hour a half in a day. Usually more like an hour. Sometimes I'll go more, but almost never longer than three hours. And I don't write every day. I write every other day until about two weeks to deadline. Then I write every day.

I am in complete sync with this quirk of mine because I know it produces enough good work for me to be happy. Other writers are different. Some love writing long, pounding days of 8-10 hours. Others procrastinate for months on end, then shove the writing into a big cram session at the end where they write 18 hours a day for one week. It doesn't matter. There is no "right" kind of process.

What I found after I developed credibility with myself (that i could actually finish a script) was that the procrastination was NECESSARY TIME that my unconscious needed to know what to write. How the @#%$ are you supposed to write pages unless you know in advance what you're going to put on them? And how do you get that knowledge?

Not by typing, folks. A typewriter or computer is THE WORST place to get ideas. My computer is a stenography zone, where I am recording to the best of my ability a great idea I had while at the gym. Or I'm recording the full out dialogue version of a scene I'd imagined while driving my kids to school.


Stop sitting in front of the @#%$ computer. Just set aside time and do NOTHING. Nap, read tabloids, play an instrument, surf the net, make imixes, jerk off...pretty much anything is ok. But you have to do it in your office or 'around' your office. it shouldn't be in the living room of your home. Dig out a nook somewhere. A garage, an alcove, where there is a feeling of separateness. Then treat that space with love. Spend a lot at Staples. Put up corkboards and have lots of pens and paper and supplies and notecards available. Have little notebooks you can carry with you or a voice recorder.

Say to yourself during your work time: "I absolutely am not writing pages today". And then don't. Spend the time noodling around instead. You will find yourself taking notes. you will find yourself thinking about your story, making sense of it, running it up a few flagpoles. Read books or magazines or watch movies that give you a glimpse of something you're going for in the project you're working on. And if you don't have the big idea yet, multiply the importance of the previous sentence by five. Exposure to other work, new environments, books, plays, travel inspires ideas. Remember the little things. Little ideas for funny lines, a look one character might give another. Write them down in your little book, for later use. You are a butterfly collector. Just notice the creative thoughts when they decide to come and be there to retrieve them.

This is the transition to actual writing. On the day you wish to begin your screenplay, name your file "TempPages" or "Garbage" or "Mud". This emphasizes the "sketch" like quality of the draft you are embarking on. Do anything you want on the first page. Write your name fifty times. Start in the beginning middle or end. Take chances. Write slightly more comic or melodramatic than you might otherwise - because remember - today doesn't count. Today you're just PRETENDING to start a draft.

As you go along, don't be wedded to chronology. Follow your gut. If an unresolved problem in act one is bothering you in act two, go back and fix it. Rewrite often. This takes the pressure off of new pages. If you do twenty pages, then tweak the first ten, then write five more, then tweak the second ten etc. you lose track of filling up that dreaded "white space".

Hopefully you will finish your script without ever knowing you've written one.

Admit you are vulnerable.
Kill the Little Hitler
Consciously decide Not to Write
Indulge your Unconscious with generous time, research, supplies and take a "service" posture toward your writing self. Have comfortable places to sit and good music and magazines and things that make you feel cozy and cared for in your work space. It invites you in gently instead of shoving you through the door
Write a draft without Noticing

peace out

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