Thursday, March 14, 2019

There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Solution for Procrastination

Last week I was reading The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. It’s a best seller with lots of good reviews. And some not so good. Read the not-so-good ones before buying this book.


I had borrowed the book from the library because I was interested in the Pressfield’s observations about procrastination and what makes creative folks fight their creativity, sabotaging that internal drive to make art. It’s all about Resistance, he says. If you read the book, you’ll get used to seeing that word over and over: Resistance.

Pressfield says he has the answer to all our procrastination problems. Become a pro by acting like a pro. Show up to work every day. Show up at the same time every day, prepared to create. Then create.

Okay, I thought. I can do that. The next morning, even though I’d had only one cup of coffee and felt foggy and sleep-deprived, I hurried to my computer and sat down, ready to work.

My second cup of coffee sat on the little cup heater, waiting, while I attempted to make my mind and body conform to my preconceived notion (carried over from my real-world working days) of the “right time to show up for work.”

I moved the mouse around, opened Word, and fetched my To Do List. Without hesitation, I moved the mouse around again to open my work in progress, a 72,000 manuscript in the 2nd revision phase.

That’s when the fog wrapped itself around my brain, interfering with the messages the brain should have been sending to my typing fingers.

Instead of Open, I clicked on Save As. I selected my manuscript file, hit Save, agreed to replace the file, and then stared at the screen, wondering why my To Do List was still displayed. Then I noticed its file name at the top of the page.

I’m not sure I can explain the emotion. Cold washed over my body from head to toe. Then heat roared up from my gut to my face. Was it dismay? Terror? I double-checked, trying to retrieve my manuscript. It wasn’t there! I now had two copies of my To Do List with two different file names.

Then I took a deep breath. The fog lifted just enough to prevent a potential stroke or heart attack. I stared at the little blue and silver flash on my mouse pad.


That’s where I keep a second copy of my up-to-date manuscript, saved after making any change. Every time. Without fail.

Very, very carefully, I inserted my flash drive and retrieved my good file. I saved it to the computer, overwriting the extra To Do List. I carefully closed the Word documents and removed the flash drive. Then I went back into Word to check. Yes. Everything was back to normal.

I took another deep breath, drank my coffee, then went downstairs and put The War of Art on the coffee table to be returned to the library on my next trip. Yes, I do suffer from bouts of procrastination. Yes, Pressfield’s concept of Resistance makes sense. And No, I do not blame Steven Pressfield for my mistake.

We need to read and analyze advice without automatically jumping on a bandwagon or immersing ourselves in the latest popular fad. It doesn’t matter if we’re trying to beat a severe attack of procrastination, trying to master the art of minimalism, or fighting an addiction to reality television. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to any problem.

I know I can't always function well first thing in the morning. I know I can't write every day. I know that what works for one person may not work for another. If others want to call it Resistance, that's fine. I'll call it "Doing Things My Way."

For an alternative view of Pressfield's book, read Morgan Mandel's 2013 post called Fight the Good Fight.


Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

17 comments :

  1. Oh, I know that horror well, Pat. So relieved to hear you were backing up! I did something similar more than twenty years ago, back when we didn't think to do back-ups :'( I was showing a friend the "choose your own adventure" game I'd written in the coding program GW Basic; unfortunately I started to show her how the code worked and opened a new screen on top of the game I'd spent so much time on. The program prompted me to save the document and I did, mid-conversation, only to find that I had saved a few lines of demo code over my only copy of my game. I have never not made a back-up of anything I work on since.

    You might be interested in the opposite perspective to Mr Pressfield: Monty Python's John Cleese on Creativity in Management and a book by Frank Partnoy called Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. Both advocate allowing creativity to simmer for as long as possible to get past the "good enough" option and dig out the unexpected twist.

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    1. I felt a cold chill run down my back while reading of your experience, Elle. It feels so bad to lose something important we've spent a lot of time creating. I'm be adding both of the books you recommended to my "Must Read" list. I'd like the idea of letting creativity simmer (sounds so much more artistic than procrastination).

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    2. I, too, like "simmer." My word of choice has always been "incubate." It's similarly positive.

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  2. Oh my. How heart stopping. I think perhaps all of us can remember doing this. I did, and those nice IT people could not retrieve my work. So very glad you could.

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    1. It's hard to lose a bunch of stuff whether a personal goof or a computer glitch. My husband was my hero after I had a computer crash a few years ago. He was able to pull the hard drive and recover everything for me. The really important stuff was properly backed up anyway, but a few things like the photo file would have been lost forever.

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  3. I fully understand. Something similar happened to me yesterday. My critique partner sent me the first 35 pages of her manuscript to get my opinion because an agent is interested. I downloaded it, worked on it Tuesday, saved it, and the next morning, my husband had a doctor's appt. I thought I could work on the pages in the car for the 3 hour round trip. Got a lot done on the way, saved it, then on the way home, I couldn't find the file. Turns out I downloaded it but didn't save the file to a document in Word. It wasn't there. None of it. Gone. And because I wasn't online, I couldn't seem to get it out of my temp file. I spent the day in a panic. Finally, I contacted Carbonite. I saw they had run a save the night before. It took them a while, but they at least got out the first part of what I'd done. What I did, or didn't do, was such an amateur mistake, I thought I'd better get my brain examined. As far as my procrastination--it's much like yours. I can't fight it anymore.

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    1. Polly, there are a billion and one ways we can mess up. I find that any little distraction (like passing scenery on a car trip) would be enough for me to make a horrible mistake. I should probably do all my writing at the library (but not on chilren's story time day).

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  4. I worked for a number of years as an IT Director, which meant I got a lot of panic calls from computer users who had just deleted or copied over a critical file. The auto-backup safeguards I'd built into the network saved most of them but there were some I just couldn't recover. Stay faithful to your "Every time. Without fail." back up routine. It's a lifesaver.

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    1. Hi LD! It sure saved me this time. I would never have started that same book over again, so more than a year of work would have been lost.

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  5. Terrific post, Pat. Showing up to write, or any other creative endeavor, is NOT the same as showing up to work at any other job. We can't force creativity. While I do agree that we can train ourselves and our brains to respond to the create prompt at certain times of certain days, it doesn't always happen. We can discipline ourselves to try to set a pattern, but when the pattern isn't working one day, procrastinate. LOL

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  6. I agree, Maryann, and I truly am a world class procrastinator.

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  7. Yikes! Scary to think you lost your WIP!! I read this book too, very interesting and telling. Me too. I call myself the Queen of Procrastinators! Sigh.

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    1. Hi Heidi! I'm beginning to think it's a universal trait that writers need to deal with...which is what Pressfield calls Resistance.

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  8. One size definitely does not fit all--with one exception: backing up our work. I've lost way too much over the years because I think creatively rather than practically. Creativity may be a gift, but it has a sizable downside. I've finally learned to rein it in a bit, but I still forget sometimes. Now about having a rigid writing schedule: I don't think so. It sounds like a great idea, but it never has worked for me. To write every day works as long as my schedule allows that. To work at the same time every day doesn't work because neither life nor the flow of creative juices are that predictable. One final thought: creativity should never be forced because quality suffers when it is, at least for me. Great post, Pat.

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    1. I agree 100%, Linda. During my working years, routine and productivity was more important than creativity. Makes a difference.

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  9. I-yi-yi! Now that was a nightmare in the making! Soooo glad you had your flashdrive and back up your critical files regularly. And I agree: One size does NOT fit all. I am hopeless in the morning for writing, so unless it's something very simple (I can do a short blog post, for instance), I save it for later in the day.

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    1. For me, mornings work for email, social media, errands away from the house, and walking the dog. Anything to do with the wip is best left until lunchtime or later.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.