Sunday, April 24, 2011

Procrastination-->Isolation-->Instant Gratification

I will admit that I am a procrastinator of epic proportions. Unfortunately, while I know this about myself, it doesn't change my tendency to put things off until the last minute. Take this blog for example. Last night, as I was pondering what to talk about today, my instant messenger popped up and my uber-awesome critique partner's picture flashed on my screen. I was quickly distracted--as I always am when my IM pops up--but at the same time thrilled. You see, Joan Swan and I chat at least every day. Sometimes more. (Usually more.) I bitch at her about my characters and plot, stress over never getting everything done that needs to get done, grumble about my kids being too loud or the puppy who ate my favorite pair of heels. She reassures me I'm not a total loser, that somehow I'll figure out what needs to be done and do it, that my kids aren't really Gremlins who need to avoid water, that Zappos can solve my shoe problem, and that tomorrow will be a better day. (If you hear Scarlett O'Hara in the background, you're not alone. Isn't Joan great?) Then we switch topics and brainstorm her latest proposal or come up with character names or laugh about something one of our heroes has said or done and life returns to some semblance of balance. And the next day we do it all again (though sometimes we switch roles and I'm the one telling her she's not a major loser, though not often.) It's a routine that works for us. It's a routine my husband rolls his eyes at and doesn't understand. It's a routine I know I couldn't write without.

Ask any writer and they'll tell you writing is a solitary endeavor. Growing up, I was never one who enjoyed group projects because I prefer to work alone. (I also like to be in charge but that's a topic for a different blog!) That preference could explain why I became a teacher (a job you often do alone) and why, when I left teaching, I took up writing. For a writer, though, the hours spent all alone can lead to feelings of either a) inferiority in all things writing related ("Man, everything I write sucks!") or b) delusions of grandeur ("I am so freakin good...this is the next best seller!) Both of which can be dangerous to the muse. But in today's technology enhanced world, that isolation is becoming obsolete. Not only do we now have instant messaging, we have Skype and Twitter and Facebook and email. If I'm feeling alone (or depressed or big headed) or without a single clue as to what to blog about, all I have to do is log on and there are suddenly hundreds of someones out there to connect with and ask. How and when and if I want to make those connections is all I need to decide.

Of course, it's not always about connecting with just anyone. When you're in need of an uplift, it has to be the right one. Another author friend I connect with daily has written for Harlequin for years. Alice Sharpe and I met through our local writer's group and instantly clicked. When we're both under deadline--like now--we challenge each other to timed writing segments and check in on each other's progress. (During these check-ins I often point out she has it easier because she only has to write 280 pgs vs my 400+. She reminds me I have it easier because I can toss in a god-induced earthquake when my characters are surrounded by bad guys while she's stuck on a ranch in Wyoming in the middle of winter with a serial killer.) No matter where our IM conversations lead (and sometimes they go in very strange directions), I know at the end of our chat I'll feel better about where I am in my book, even if I've only advanced two pages for the day. And I know it's the same for Alice. She told me a while back that our IM conversations reinvigorated her love for the job. When you've been doing this as long as she has (40+ books into her career), it's easy to get caught up worrying about how your publisher is treating you and if you're getting what other authors are getting and what your numbers are doing. The isolation that comes with writing can make it easy to lose sight as to why we became authors in the first place...so we could excite and inspire and entertain all through the written word.

Procrastination isn't something I'm encouraging others to take up, but last night it reminded me how important my writing pals are to me. I'm confident I could write without talking to them each and every day, but would I be as productive? Would I work out plot problems as quickly? Would I have half as much fun? I know the answer to all of those questions is no. Even when Joan's giving me blog topic ideas like "How about a procrastination crossword puzzle?" (lotta help, Joan) or Alice is stressing over the end of her career (she's sure every book is the end of her career), I appreciate every word my writing buddies say (or type). And I love the fact technology has brought us all so close, regardless of how far apart we may truly be, I feel like I have my best friends right there in the room with me when I need them most.

Not everyone is a writer with the same crazy needs and neuroses writers have, but in our busy jobs and lives, it's easy for each of us to feel disconnected. What do you do to stay connected to friends or family?

17 comments:

  1. Hey Elisabeth! Wonderful blog.

    I totally agree with you about the writing being solitary and the need to connect with other writer friends when we take a break. ;)

    Most days I'm struggling just to keep up with my day job/writing/family/friends (and not necessarily in that order it depends on the day) sometimes phone calls or text messages.

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  2. I have two author friends that I email every day--well maybe not on weekends but we are always chatting throughout the weekdays.
    I consider them my best friends and both live 1500 miles away from me, and in different directions, and the two of them aren't friends. Funny
    how life works.
    Amelia

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  3. As an author I understand every word of your blog and it's great to be reassured that what some folks might deem procrastination is really our revitalization time! Thank you for pointing that out!

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  4. I agree that we need our friends and the internet is a great way to connect! I'm addicted to facebook - it's such a great way to stay connected to old friends, and I've made new friends there through networking too!

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  5. Couldn't agree more, darlin'!

    Last night I was coerced by DH and DD to go to dinner at a friends house...sounds nice right? Not when those friends and I grew apart a long time ago and we have very little in common. When being with them in an excercise in checking the time and searching for more small talk. And in some instances bite my tongue against an all out argument over a rut between our values systems.

    During dinner, I found myself thinking about Elisabeth and imagining how different it would be if I were with her and Dan with her kids raising havoc with the puppies, lots of common topics to bitch or laugh over and similar value systems. I couldn't wait to get home to see if she was online, and while I didn't stay long because the tedious of the evening had worn me out, just a simple chat with her set me back in balance.

    Can online friends be closer than ones you see everyday? Absolutely. Can online friends save your sanity when everyday friends can run you into a wall? Absolutely.

    Couldn't write or live without my Eli!!

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  6. Joan! Hi, fellow Ruby! ;-)

    I'm someone who needs a curve-breaking degree of isolation to remain productive. As a massive introvert, I find even electronic contact, for the most part, draining and distracting, and I have to take active steps to manage this lest I get overwhelmed dodging digital shrapnel.

    Being I have a day job in technology, and am a telecommuter to boot, I spend way too much time sitting in front of a glowing screen as it is. My lifesaver of a CP and I meet face-to-face, over coffee, and it's such a nice change of pace!

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  7. To stay connected with family and friends, we get together regularly for a weekend breakfast or coffee and dessert with our gab sessions.

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  8. I actually like Twitter a lot for this purpose. I was skeptical about it at first, but now I love it. It's almost like IM-ing friends. And sometimes writers do a 1K writing challenge or something and I feel like I'm writing with others, not alone.

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  9. I have to agree with you about Twitter, Shana. I think once you get to know a few people, "find your tribe", and have some personal interactions with people, Twitter can provide a real sense of community. But like all tools, I find I need to use Twitter with conscious intention - for example, set a timer for 15 minutes' use, then shut it down - other wise it all starts to blur.

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  10. C.H. - It's so hard to stay on top of everything, isn't it? What I love about the instant gratification of IMing my writing pals is that I can unwind from everything else going on in my life and know they GET where I'm coming from.

    Amelia - That's the way my two writing friends are. They've yet to meet but I know they'll love each other when they do. How could they not? They both love me. :)

    Carolyn - As one author pointed out to me, all procrastination is not equal. I tend to agree.

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  11. Joanne - Facebook is great for staying connected, isn't it? I also love that most authors are on FB so you can easily catch up with what they're doing and any new releases they may have coming out.

    Ah, Joan...you know I love you! God knows you save my sanity day after day. And I definitely agree that online friends can be closer than in-person ones. You and I are proof of that!

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  12. Tamara - if you work in a day job where you're bombarded by technology every moment, I could see how you might shy away from online connections. But it's great you're getting that connection in other ways. Trust me, if Joan and I lived close we'd be in each others faces all the time!

    Lil - love the idea of weekend gab sessions. How fun!


    Shana - Twitter is great for staying connected. I've seen the 1K/1h tweets but haven't joined in yet. Probably should give it a try!

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  13. Thank goodness for cell phones and facebook. :)

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  14. With two little kids I actually look forward to my alone time when I can write by myself. Though I can't do it often I like conferences or RWA xhapter meetings to meet with other writers in person.

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  15. I keep up with friend and family through the internet and phone. Although I don't get in touch very often just seems like I don't have the time or take the time to do so.

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  16. Email is the only way for me to keep in touch, except for my one sister who doesn't have internet. I have to go see her because she can't leave her cows very long. *sigh* Wish she'd decided on beef cattle instead of dairy...

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  17. I know just how you feel, Elisabeth. I couldn't survive without my writing buddies.

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