I once read a statistic that one in two people holds aspirations of writing a book. I cannot back that claim up, but anecdotally I have met an awful lot of people that desire to publish a book one day. With that said, there are plenty of people out there that would like to direct a movie, program a video game, or create some other form of work that will gain them fame if not fortune from the wilder public.
With movies and video games, there is a greater amount of resources that need to be leveraged to complete the projects, but with writing this is not the case. I suppose you need to know how write, which may involve taking a writing class or at least invest time into practicing writing exercises that you dig up with a quick Google search. Beyond the baseline skill set the question still remains, why don’t we have more writers?
Enter procrastination, the bane of anyone who ever wanted to accomplish anything. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, as procrastination paradoxically allows you to accomplish a variety of other tasks than the one you set out to do. John Perry does a fantastic job of describing this concept in The Art of Procrastination, the principle is that we will perform a variety of alternative tasks to avoid doing the task in question. I experienced this phenomenon today, when I found myself scrubbing the charred fat of last night’s chicken livers off a frying pan in the pre-dawn hours rather than address the plethora of writing goals I had set for myself. With my frying pans now spotless, my room immaculate, and a load of laundry chugging along, I have now turned my attention to writing.
The assumption would then be that in order to address the task you are avoiding (i.e. writing), you simply have to do every other task conceivable first. Not quite. If you are like me, the number of alternative tasks is innumerable and I can spend the whole day polishing every nook and cranny of my house. The trick is to simply envision another task that you would prefer to avoid even more than the task you wish to address. More than writing, I really don’t want to study copyright law, even though I will have to do this at some point in order to move my business forward. Hence, I am now banging out words for my blog as opposed to engage in the mind-numbing practice that lawyers somehow make a career out of.
This tactic has obvious applications outside of writing as well. Simply prioritize a task that is not terribly important but needs to get done at some point and then watch as you cut through the rest of your to-do list like a hot knife through butter. About the only group that this tactic doesn’t work for is lawyers…seriously, I have no idea how you force yourself to do what you do day in and day out. If you happen to be a lawyer, law student, or are in the process of articling (also known as indentured labour), let me know how you find your focus.