On Procrastination

What Happened? Well, I started strong writing for NaNoWriMo, but ultimately failed. I could not get my head around how awfully I wrote. Sure, the contest guidelines tell you this will be a problem. “Just write!” they say. “Worry about editing this later!” “Perfection is the enemy!” “Getting started is the hardest part.”

Charleston 1

Not so, I say. Starting is easy. It’s achieving consistency that kills.

The exercise behind National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is to gain momentum through action. By committing to writing an incredible volume, you’ll be able to get yourself over the hump of inertia. Well, I failed. 50,000 words was just too much for me. Oh, I started out OK. 50k / ~30 days equaled just about 1,500 words a day. And I did just that… for a while at least. Actually, a few days in the first week my word count was well over 2000 per day. And then it just stopped. I skipped one day telling myself that it would average out. Then I wrote little the next day. Then little more the next week. Before you know it, I was out. Not only was I out of NaNoWriMo, I was out of writing. Entirely. No new blog articles (thanks, Matt, for pointing that out.)

This was an odd experience for me. While I may not always finish pretty, I do make a point to finish. NaNoWriMo sticks out as one of my great unfinished endeavors. It wasn’t until months later that I was able to begin to discern why. This essay are those reasons.

What Happened?

While I was writing, I kept on judging how easy this was for me as a child, as a teen, and as a college student. Years ago, I would never have to try. I would simply make an outline of what I wanted to write then go about filling in the outline. What could be easier? The words would pour out well-formed (or relatively well-formed albeit still with atrocious grammar) on the page.

Well, the words didn’t this time. It was a struggle. It sucked. And so I started to procrastinate. I began doing all sorts of other things. I built a full other website – while it did make me a decent amount of spending money, brought me no closer to my writing goal. My house was cleaner than it has ever been. Writing goals are apparently excellent for cleaning your house. My kung fu practice was spot-on. I prepared and cooked many excellent dishes and even attained a semblance of a diet. As I was also growing a mustache for Movemeber (much to my wife’s dismay), I spent a good deal of time enjoying the bizarre look of it in the mirror.

What didn’t happen was writing. Not here on this website. Not on my web design site. As my brother mentioned in a comment, it was amusing that my last post here at Cubicle Warrior was that I was entering NaNoWriMo… and that nothing had been posted for so long afterward. In fact, I would do anything but write. Ironic that entering a writing contest killed my writing.

Or did it?

Why Nothing Happened

I’ve thought long and hard about this. After much thought, several cigars, and lots of psuedo-work, reading the interwebs (the more respectable alias of procrastination) I discovered my root cause of failure; I didn’t have a plan. Or, rather, let me correct that; I didn’t have a sound plan that my whole mind embraced.

My original plan for NaWriMo was to sit down an crank out 1500 number of lines per day. This worked swimmingly for the first ~15,000 words but entirely fell apart. It was if the initial words I wrote were ends to some long rope and the more that came, the more tangled I became in them until, at last, I had lashed together a full-length pair of Chinese Finger cuffs
fitted for my psyche. The more I wrote, the more stuck I became. This went on until I became so damn constricted that I would rather do anything than fight it anymore. However I allocated my time, repeated pithy motivational sayings, or otherwise compelled myself to the task at hand I ended up procrastinating my way out of it.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

There are probably as many theories as there are procrastinators, but I like the summation provided in Cal Newport’s article ‘The Procrastinating Caveman’ summation the best.

In short, Cal’s reasoning is thus:

  1. Humans won the evolutionary battle largely due to our ability for complex planning. (ie. Throwing a spear at large, dangerous game is much better than charging it.)
  2. This evolution was a pre-verbal adaptation and thus would register itself as something instinctual.
  3. Perhaps procrastination is our pre-verbal brain expressing it’s reservations against our actions that do not follow a promising game plan.

So, according to Cal, thanks to eons of evolution*, I need a plan that my whole mind will sign off on in order to beat procrastination. I’ll buy that. In fact, I believe that is exactly what happened with my NaNoWriMo experiment.

You see, the instructions of NaNoWriMo are to sit down and just write. Ignore everything else and just write. You are technically able to bring an outline in with you, but I never did that. Sure, I would procrastinate by creating outlines when I was supposed to be writing but that’s just not the same. Traversing Cal’s list bullet-ed out above, I was never afraid of writing, nor of it ever being perfect. While I was certain that my NaNoWriMo writings were of low-quality, I still do believe (perhaps erroneously), that I do have high-quality stuff hidden somewhere inside of me. And I think it was lack of a plan that stopped me from finding & expressing it.

*As an addendum to readers who may not necessarily believe in evolution, perhaps it is possible that the deity who you believe gave you a brain and a subconscious built a little sub-routine into it that behaves in a similar way to how Cal describes.

Why I Think Cal is Right

The best evidence is that you are reading this post right here. This post only came out of a series of imagining, planning, and refining my goals and process of achieving them. Once I hit upon a plan that made ‘instinctual’ sense to me – an answer if you will to ‘Why the hell are you keeping that Cubicle Warrior website up and going?’ – I was able to start writing again. And without effort.

Ruta-de-Don-Quijote-Toledo

Here’s how I think it went down

  1. I start NaNoWrimo tacitly accepting the contest rules as a good plan.
  2. I set to work and my frontal lobe’s pre-verbal adaptation registered it’s disagreement via procrastination.
  3. Effort flames out.
  4. I learn to utilize keys from my subconscious and happen upon a good plan.
  5. Productive work comes much easier.

The biggest change is that I am excited to produce again. I am not so worried about if it makes much sense to anyone else because it makes sense to me – and it really makes sense to that pre-verbal adaptation evolution has left me. This is good – I’m tired of fighting it.

Call it a placebo effect. I don’t care. What matters to me is that I feel that I am making progress – in opposed to doing pseudo work. I like my plan and I like it’s effects. Hopefully you will, too.

Next time I’ll cover some elements I see in a good plan before going on to layout the first steps I am taking. In the meantime, why not share your thoughts on procrastination. Do you procrastinate? If so, why? If not, did you ever and how did you beat it? I know there are terribly interesting people reading this essay. If you don’t comment (anonymously or not), I’ll start outing your terrific accomplishments and calling you out!

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Help a Writer Out!

I first heard of NaNoWriMo when reading Leo’s Zen Habits 2009 write up. Thought it was interesting and then went on. Of course I thought ‘Gee, that’s exactly what I need to get that novel (finished / continue / uh.. started!) Then Lori reminded me of the challenge when she advised her audience at large about her lessons. We had a bunch of conversations, comments, tweets, and mutual admiration sessions and I got really excited about it. Later on my inner drill sergeant screamed at me Full Metal Jacket style to “Come on you pansy, quit talking about what you’re going to do and do it already! It’s time to buckle up, butter cup!” My inner voices can be quite demanding at times. So I decided I would. Then I told you.
thailand bangkok backpacker road beer

Support Systems

As I can let no new endeavor commence without the obligatory procrastination… uh, I mean research, I searched the interwebs for examples of people doing the NaNoWriMo challenge. One of the recurring themes I read here is the concept of a support system. Well, we all know that most great accomplishments come from personal inspiration backed up by a support team to get you through those lonely doubting hours.

In fact, I cannot think of a single thing I’ve accomplished without the help of a support team.

Boy am I going to need help on this one! And I don’t think I’m the only one in need.

It takes a Village – How You Can Help

Option 1: Join me in writing NaNoWriMo

Come on, you know you want to write that novel you’ve been holding inside!

4 Reasons for You to Join me in NaNoWriMo

1. Learn how to schedule your creativity.

Leo did. Worked out pretty well for him, didn’t it?

2. Learn how to write.

Ali says it better than I can as she recaps her experience here:

I believe that there’s real value in just seeing something through, even if the results are pretty dismal. The experience of writing a novel for NaNoWriMo probably isn’t going to get you a brilliant publishable piece of fiction at the end of the month … but it is going to help you learn about the writing process (plotting, developing characters, writing dialogue) and it may well help you to establish the writing discipline that you need to carry on developing.
Ali

3. Make Progress Towards that Bucket List

It’s amazing how many people out there have a book hidden in them. It’s amazing how few get it out of their subconscious and out on to paper. If you want to be one of the few, the proud, the published, this is your first step!

4. You’re Good Enough!

Writing can take a deal of courage. Everyone has read an author and has been absolutely blown away. While you love and appreciate the talent an author expresses and marvel at how those words have enriched your life, perhaps a small part of despairs thinking that since you’ll never match that artistry, why even make your own effort. This happens to me every day… usually in the comments section of my own blog!

Intimidation isn’t a good enough reason to stop. If you’re not scared, you’re probably not growing.

5. Because You Can.

This may be the best and only reason. You should write because you can. Because it would be a sin to waste that ability. Because if you can accomplish something, and you choose not to for any reason other than striving towards some other great purpose, what does that make you?

Option 2: Have a Blog?

Check out the NaNoBlogMo challenge! Know a blogger who’s doing NaNoWriMo? Send them that link!

Option 3: General Support

When the going gets tough, the tough rely on their friends to pull them through! Everything that I’ve read on this challenge indicates that it takes an inordinate amount of reassurance and cheering from your support structure to pull it through.

So, What’s It Gonna Be?

Writing? Tell the world below!
Blogging? Tell us below AND sign up for NaNoBlogMo!
Cheering? Let’s hear it in the comments section!

My Great American Novel

It’s been too long. I think I’m ready for a new challenge. Swimming and travelling have been fun (and I don’t plan on getting married again!) Perhaps now it is time for a more academic endeavor. Enter NaNoWriMo.

ruta-de-don-quijote-toledo

What is NaNoWriMo?

I first heard of this crazy acronym reading Leo’s blog. NaNoWriMo stands for National November Write More Month. Basically, you sign up, you write your heart out every day in the month of November with the goal of dumping 50,000 words on paper to create a work of fiction. There is no editing and there is little consideration for anything other than raw content. It’s perfect for me!

Basic Rules

Here are the rules I got from the contest as soon as I signed up:

1) It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Really. You’ve read a lot of novels, so you’re completely up to the challenge of writing one. If you feel more comfortable outlining your story ahead of time, do so. But it’s also fine to just wing it. Write every day, and a book-worthy story will appear, even if you’re not sure what that story might be right now.

2) Do not edit as you go. Editing is for December. Think of November as an experiment in pure output. Even if it’s hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn’t. Every book you’ve ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft. In November, embrace imperfection and see where it takes you.

3) Tell everyone you know that you’re writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who’ve had to hear about your novel for the past month. Seriously. Email them now about your awesome new book. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.

3.5) There will be times you’ll want to quit during November. This is okay. Everyone who wins NaNoWriMo wanted to quit at some point in November. Stick it out. See it through. Week Two can be hard. Week Three is much better. Week Four will make you want to yodel.

Why it Rocks

Like many other dreamers you may know I harbor the secret hope of one day completing the Great American Novel. My friends know this all too well. I’ve been threatening to write a lengthy piece of fiction (or two) for years now. But I haven’t ever finished. Most would say that a couple hundred pages here on a dozen or so stories doesn’t even constitute a start. But that’s what this contest should fix. NaNoWriMo allows you, in fact encourages you to just get words on paper without worrying about how pretty they are. For me this will cure a multitude of woes.

Woe 1: Procrastination

In the past, the times I’ve budgeted for writing by and large have been usurped by such worthy activities like tweeting, Facebook, laundry, mindless Internet surfing, and college football. Not the most productive of pursuits. The simple and necessary tasks of budgeting my time, eliminating distractions and marshaling my efforts into a creative productivity should work wonders.

Woe 2: Simplification

All great accomplishments can be broken down into small, essential tasks. NaNoWriMo does that. There’s no worrying about whether the prose is good enough – it won’t be. There is little worry about grammar, word choice, awkwardness of phrasings or anything else that my inner voice uses to derail me when I’ve sat down to write in the past.

Woe 3: Tangible Progress

I’m a sucker for physical, tangible proof of progress. I am a list maker and a list crosser-off-er. Watching my word count increase day by day will fuel me to continue the next day and the next after that until completion.

What NaNoWriMo Will Not Do

Completing NaNoWriMo will not guarantee me a novel. It will, however, guarantee me a lump of clay which I will be very inclined to shape into something worthwhile. At the end of the process I’ll have a 50,000 word lump of fiction and serious momentum. While that doesn’t constitute a novel, I think it will put me past the critical tipping point.

What’s Next?

Well, my criteria for setting a goal have been met. Let’s review. We have a clearly delineated measure of success: 50,000 new words towards a novel. We have a time box the achievement needs to be set in: between November 1st, 2010 and November 30th 2010. I have a plan – average 2,500 words a day (I like incorporating a buffer as it allows for life to be life in all it’s unpredictable madness.)

Only one component is missing; a support group. But we’ll get into that one next time.

For now, what about you? Do you have a novel banging around in your head? Ever see yourself putting it down on paper? Maybe writing a novel is not for you. I bet you’re working on something else completely awesome! Share with us below.

Alternately if you’ve already written your novel or competed in NaNoWriMo tell us below how you did it! Any advice for someone trying for the first time? Help a cubicle warrior out by leaving a comment below!

Should You Keep Your Goals to Yourself or Announce them to the World?

Hi all! Summer’s over and it’s back to school, back to professional dress, and a relaxing of the lazy days of summer as cubicle warriors face the pending 4th quarter deliverables. Oh, and I’m back blogging, too!

But…. I don’t really want to start off too hard, too fast. So let’s resume our community conversation with a Friday video! Heh, I’m off to the happiest place on Earth this weekend for a Virginia Tech tailgate in beautiful Blacksburg, Virginia anyway and nobody wants terribly difficult subjetcts covered this late in the afternoon before a weekend!

Today’s video comes from T.E.D. talks and shows some interesting points on whether you should announce your goals to the world or not. [Thanks to MarineCorps for sending it to my attention!]

To tell or not to tell, that is the question?

Watch it and let the rest of us know what you think in the comments below! If you’ve read my earlier posts you know that I’m a big fan of announcing my goals in order to secure both social accountability in my achieving them (I’d rather let myself down than those I tell) and for rallying support on the help, aid, and reaffirmation I know I’ll need along the way. This video leans a different way with some very valid points. How about you?

The Brilliant Will Smith

Will Smith is freaking brilliant. Maybe you don’t want to be a TV / Movie / Hip Hop mogul. Regardless, this dude has a phenomenal personal philosophy that can help you do whatever it is that you do.

Please note that the original video I posted was removed from YouTube. I found one that was similarly inspiring, if not identical to the first I published here. Let me know if this one changes.

Also, here’s a link to the book he referenced The Alchemist It’s a good, quick read suitable for adults and kids. I like to gift it to new dads and they enjoy reading it to their children.

Quotes of My Friend’s Fathers

Last week I spent some time recounting my favorite quotes from my Dad. I also wrote up a few quotes from the fathers of my favorite writers on the Internet. Today I’m taking a look at some of my favorite words of wisdom from the fathers of my friends.

I spent this Father’s Day weekend at a wedding for my wife’s cousin. This was the union of two incredibly connected, well-adjusted and close families each with several children that spanned ages. Many of the people in my generation (+/- 10 years in either direction have children so there was certainly no shortage of great examples of the importance of family on a person’s growth.

Achieving

  • Never sacrifice what you want most for what you want now.
  • Make a plan and work it.
  • If it’s really important to you, you’ll remember it (when I would forget to do something, and claim “I just forgot!”)
  • If you really want it, you’ll get it.  Don’t worry if you don’t think you can do it now, you’ll figure it out.
  • Listen.

Coping

  • They can make it tougher, but they can’t make it longer.
  • Learn to agree to disagree.
  • This, too, shall pass.

Money

  • There is no prize for being the richest man in the cemetery.
  • You can’t burn the candle on both ends.
  • Never be ashamed of working.. any kind of work.

What do you think about this set of wisdom? Is there anything you can apply to your life today? What would you share?

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Cubicle Warrior World Cup Edition

Time for another Friday Video. I’m between two wedding weekends. Last weekend was a quick jump up to NY for my brother’s engagement party. This weekend I leave a day early for a cousin-in-law’s (is that even a word?) wedding in Maryland. In between it all is the World Cup. And the theme of this weekend’s videos.

What I love about the World Cup – and indeed any mass market sport is the simple beauty of it. Athletic competition, even if you don’t particularly care for the sport is a wonderful abstraction of the best of the human condition. No one on any of these teams is on them for anything but their skill. It doesn’t matter who their parents are, how much anybody likes them, what they believe in or who they date. All that matters is that they can play ball at the highest level. There’s a true simple beauty in that.

It’s Not About

Top 10 skills

Soccer can be a subtle sport some times. Sure the goals and collisions get the Top Play billings on ESPN. Here’s a great clip of some of the best displays of skill from the last Cup.

Lessons from the Dad’s of the best of the Blogosphere.

This article continues my Father’s Day theme. I started off with lessons from my dear, old Dad. This one continues with a few more quotes from some well known others.

The Blogosphere is an interesting place filled with interesting people. A while ago I asked a bunch of Internet celebrities about the lessons that they learned from their dads. Most took the time to respond and I’m very thankful they did.

Check out not only the advice that made a mark on them but the people who supplied it as well. Remember, the criteria for my list was being an Internet rock-star who was also approachable. Success + kindness == some awesome people with interesting stories.

A BIG thanks to everyone who helped me out!

John Jantsch – Duct Tape Marketing

John is THE standard in small business marketing and runs his empire from Duct Tape Marketing He’s also a good guy who just released a great book on referrals – I bought two, one for me and one as a prize for my local business group. The tons of advice he dispenses daily is applicable both in the small business world as well as the corporate one.

Advice from John’s Dad

Whenever some conflict over something that was not done right would come up he would always say: “Fix the problem, not the blame.”

Great advice. That’s how all doers think. John is definitely a “doer.” If you wish your small business could be doing more, check out his site.

Brendon Sinclair – Tailored Web Design

Brendon literally wrote the book on how to run a web development business– something I do to supplement my cubicle income. His book is great no matter your business. Learning from him was worth 10 times what you’d find in a typical MBA and is roughly $100,000 cheaper. Somehow he manages to run a great business, teach others, and do crazy things like triathlons and bike across Australia.

Advice from Brendon’s Dad

Always eat at a full table because you never know how long your luck’s going to last!

This advice screams take advantage of all the opportunities you’re given. Brendon and company definitely do that over at Tailored. One thing you could do is drop by and have a look.

Rick Ingersoll- Frugal Travel Guy

Rick is the primary reason the wife and I will be doing a lot of free flying in the near future. Over at his site he details great ways to earn frequent flyer miles. Not only does he share every tip in the book, he practices what he preaches flying all over the world all of the time.

Advice from Rick’s Dad

Always do the next right thing.

To me this means to go above and beyond with the way you help people. Rick’s doing that and more by sharing his wealth of knowledge and encouraging other people to be better humans by way of providing a great example.

Chris Guillebeau – The Art of Non-Conformity

Chris has the most compelling story on the Internet. He’s roughly my age – 31 – and he’s on a mission to see every country in the world before he’s 35. That’s cool. The way he’s financing it may be even cooler. He’s a consummate entrepreneur claiming to never have had a “real job.” Don’t let him fool you into thinking he never works. The guy launches product after product, writes more than Hemingway, and has a book coming out this fall (complete with plans to do a 50 state book tour to promote it.)

The reason you end up reading and then re-reading Chris is that he’s an incredible achiever and seems impervious to negativity. The only downside to reading him is the hit your work ethic’s ego takes. This guy does a lot!

Advice from Chris’s Dad

My Dad taught me to think for myself and not take no for an answer. These lessons influenced my entire worldview, and whatever success I have now comes from his modeling that to me.

No doubt that Chris is successfully charting his own path.

Yaro Starak – Entrepreneur’s Journey

A lot of people want to make money doing what they love. A lot of people will sell you information on how to learn to do what you love. Yaro’s a guy who has done the former and manages to do the latter in a non-scammy, effective way. If you’re into blogging, you’ve likely gone to his site to learn from the best.  If not, what are you waiting for?

Advice from Yaro’s Dad

Don’t assume the cheapest is the best. Sometimes paying more for something of higher quality is a good idea rather than saving money just for the sake of saving money.

This led me to later realize that time is of more value than money, and although you might save money buying the cheapest option, often the time lost due to poor quality, costs you more.

Hanging on the wall of my cube is a comic that helps keep me centered. Yaro’s quote reminds me of it. It’s of a business man, late to a meeting, walking past a grave yard looking at his watch thinking ‘Time = Money.’ The grave boasts an etching “time > money.”

So what about you? What’s do you think about the advice they shared? Could you apply it?

Have any advice you’d like to share. Let us know in the comments below!

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