For most of my life I’ve struggled to be something I’m not.
I’ve always been envious of those people who seem to have it all together. The ones who have a schedule for every single day and stick to it.
I’m not one of them. Sure, I make schedules, but I can only stick to them for so long. Something in me seems to revolt against too much routine, no matter how “good” it is for me. No matter how hard I try, my life consists of cycles of great productivity followed by cycles of great sloth. I stress myself out by packing my to-do lists during the productive times and beat myself up during the slothful times for not being more productive.
“Why oh why can’t I maintain a consistent level of effort over the long-term?” I’ll say…noticing the joyful glee I feel when I procrastinate or blow off something I should do for an irresistible book, a bubble bath, a guilty-pleasure DVD, or a prolonged email session with a friend.
My inability to stick to schedules and routines has plagued me since childhood. Teachers said I “didn’t perform to my abilities”. Bosses said I cared more about the projects I was passionate about. And me? I just thought I was lazy and beat myself up some more. What was puzzling is I have plenty of proof that I’m not lazy–I managed to train for multiple hours a day, six days a week, for over a year to get ready for my muay thai fight. I’ve finished five full-length novels. I followed through on marketing those novels enough to land a New York agent. I built a successful freelance career–and promptly got it back again when I needed it. I’ve never been fired from a job, most of which have lasted multiple years. So what gives?
And most importantly, if writing novels is my dream, why do I blow that off, too? Why can’t I maintain a consistent effort?
Freelancing has taken over my life again this week, and I was whining to The Boy about the usual stuff. Why am I self-destructive? Why, why, why? (Even my life coach hasn’t been able to figure this one out.)
And finally, in the midst of an hours-long conversation, The Boy came up with a brilliant answer. I think it might actually be the thing to help me overcome this tendency, and maybe it can help some of you as well.
“You have a rebellious personality,” he said.
Who, me? The one who was known as “Hooligan, the Ultimate Rebel” in high school? Nahhh…it couldn’t be.
The Boy pointed out that, while I will buckle down and meet any necessary external deadlines (usually after hours of procrastinating), I function best when I have the freedom to choose how I spend my time. The easiest way to ensure I won’t do something is to tell me I should do it.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right. Going over my life with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I could clearly see how I flourished when I was given creative freedom by bosses and teachers, and how both my performance and health suffered when I dealt with micromanagers or was forced into positions that didn’t suit my personality and skill-set.
The problem is that now I’m my own boss. And by trying to adhere to strict schedules and “forcing” myself to write, I’m working against my personality. Because I believed I need a rigid schedule to accomplish my goals, I’ve become exactly the kind of micromanager I used to hate. And I’m doing it to myself!
The Boy said I need to make writing fun again. Rather than write in the same place where I do my freelance work, he suggested I take my laptop to where I have my breaks (usually on the couch) and celebrate the time to work on the novel with a little treat (even the dreaded Diet Pepsi). Most of all, I need to change my mindset. Rather than thinking of my writing career as “work”, I need to remember it’s the ultimate form of rebellion…rebellion against having to work for others all my life; rebellion against everyone who told me I couldn’t do it; rebellion against that critical voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough.
It’s so crazy it just might work. It reminds me of a blog post by Dean Wesley Smith that talked about how to make writing fun again. A lot of what I’ve done in the past ten years completely sucked any fun out of the process. And it should be fun. If not, why do it?
Might as well procrastinate.