I have suffered from procrastination for as long as I can remember. The bystander often thinks that root of procrastination is laziness though there are many psychological articles which demonstrate otherwise. I thought I would write about my own experience with it, using the simple analogy of brain gremlins. I am coming at this from a writer’s point of view, but it is true for any occupation.
The first gremlin is Self-Esteem. Upon finishing a sentence, you feel harmonic in your skill. Never was a sentence so beautiful and poetic. Then you re-read the completed paragraph and the self-esteem gremlin tells you it is childish and clunky. Words that once echoed angelically become tainted with this gremlin’s negativity. This becomes worse the longer ago it was that the words were written.
The second gremlin is Heart-Break. When you care about something you pour your heart into it. And when that thing fails and breaks, all your love comes spilling out of it. And that really hurts. This gremlin reminds you of that hurt and the fear becomes debilitating. The choice becomes ‘don’t write and fail’ or ‘write and still fail’. When you have the first gremlin, you don’t even see the third option of success.
The third gremlin is Knowledge. This gremlin knows a lot more that you do and he isn’t afraid to let you know it. He reminds you that there is so much you don’t understand. He tells you that people will read your work and find plot holes because you didn’t know that one tiny fact. He then convinces you to spend the next few hours researching said fact.
The forth gremlin is Distortion. He blows everything up out of proportion; even the smallest of tasks becomes huge when this gremlin is around. He makes you feel like you don’t have the time to write that next section. He tells you that it is a Very Important Piece and gives you the fear that you wouldn’t do it justice.
The fifth gremlin is Future. He constantly whispers in your ear “What next?”. Before you can finish a chapter he is going on about how even if you finish the book, you have no idea what to do next. That editors, publishers and printing are concepts you know nothing about. And even if you do get published, what then?
It is possible to ignore these gremlins but it is not easy. The best way to beat them is to, well, beat them. Kick them, push them, fight them. Of course they will recover; they will even fight back. But the more you fight the weaker they become. Regular bouts will keep them in their place: beneath you. With time and practice they will only be mere buzzes in your ear but you don’t want to get rid of them completely. I do honestly believe that these gremlins have a place. They keep you realistic and grounded and overall make you a better writer. The important thing is to not let them control you. Something I am still battling with myself.
Accompanying this article is a gremlin I drew. I use the term ‘drew’ loosely here. He is some-what based on the design of the Cheshire Cat from American McGee’s Alice. I do feel that as a psychology graduate I should have been able to draw a better brain, but that wasn’t exactly covered under the syllabus.