One of my goals when I embarked on this honors experience was to have a daily work count goal. I decided on this to keep me accountable and force me to continue to write; the most common piece of advice you'll read from any author is to write and write often. To keep in line with exploring genres and technique, I didn't want to restrict myself to a specific number of pieces in case some got longer than others or I had an idea for a new piece to write.
I've been experimenting with the number of words I'm capable per day- wanting to keep it realistic with my schedule while also making sure I'm accomplishing something. So far I've settled on 300 words per day- it's not as high as I wish it was but I've done a decent job of keeping up with it.
This word count, though, has been the most difficult part of this experience so far. I think it's because, like any other habit, there's going to be times when you don't want to do it. There's going to be times when you're not inspired, when you're tired, when there's other stuff you'd rather be doing. I've heard it all the time from people I know who have turned their passion into their field of study or career: sometimes when you're forced to do something you love, it takes the joy out of it. And some days, especially when I have writers block, that feels like the case.
But I think the moments when I don't want to write are the most essential- the ones that push me the hardest towards success. If you want to get fit but only go to the gym when you feel like it, you're not going to make much progress. This is a similar concept. So many motivational speeches make the distinction between motivation and discipline, and while cliche, I think that applies to my situation too. When it comes down to it, if I want to improve at a writer I'll need to write whether I want to or not. I'm hoping that my work count and daily goals can keep me on track, and while I don't have a solution for lack of motivation on occasion, I'm hoping that remembering why I'm doing this and knowing that it'll help me in the end will keep me going.
Procrastination. Along with many other students, procrastination has been one of my greatest downfalls. That sounds awful and unprofessional to state, but I think the reason it gets such a disapproving reaction is because of the misconceptions of procrastination. In my first post I mentioned that I got started on this project later than I wanted to. That combined with my self-identification as a procrastinator can easily paint an image of laziness. However, I don't think laziness is the root cause of my delay in work at all.
Many people, myself included, identify their work as a part of themselves. With writing, I find this to be especially true; it's a very raw and exposing craft because everything you make is a part of you. Like I mentioned in my post about voice, the very words people read in your work are yours. While others may be more comfortable with the concept or lack such a strong association, in my mind, putting such an intimate piece of yourself and your thoughts out there for the world to read is a very vulnerable action.
This vulnerability and association of work and self can lead to a lot of pressure to make things perfect. I want my work to be as close to perfect as possible because it is a reflection of me; my work has to meet and convey the high standards to which I hold myself. In my mind, this train of thought leads right to procrastination station. Not because I am lazy or afraid of work, but because I desire perfection. Maybe I delay starting a project because I am too burnt out from my other schoolwork to give it my full attention. Maybe I delay publishing a blog post because I can't figure out how to fix that one sentence that isn't quite right. Maybe I didn't meet my goal that day because I had writers block and I wasn't about to put something out into the world that was half-finished.
Regardless of which of those, or countless other, scenarios I ran into that day, the vast majority of the time something is procrastinated is because of that pressure and desire to do things right. This can lead to a catch-22 because the procrastination runs down the clock to the point where you don't have enough time to "do it right" anyways. And in most cases, academic, professional, or otherwise, this cycle is unaccepted and chastised. The lack of acceptance here can further lead to feelings of negativity surrounding your work because even when you try to do it right, it still ends up wrong.
Now I'm no psychologist so please accept this post as only the ramblings of my own mind and hypothesis that I've arrived at based on my own experiences. But from my shallower-than-surface-level understanding of how the mind works, habits like procrastination create pathways in our brain. The longer these pathways are dredged down, the more ingrained they become. And I think that's why I find "it doesn't have to be perfect" or "just put it out there and see what happens" to hard to believe and follow. The way I've viewed my work and myself simply won't allow it.
So what's the point of this soap box speech? It's two-fold: one to write out my thought process to hopefully make some sense of it and two to figure out where to go from here. They say the first step to fixing a problem is identifying it, right?
I want to take a quick aside here to thank the University Honors Program- this is truly one of the safest places I've found on campus to explore my passions and go through new experiences truly without pressure to be perfect. I think one of the reasons I've loved this program so much is because it's modeled in a way that promotes real, genuine learning. Whenever I've seen myself go down that path of procrastination due to the pressure to be perfect or found myself avoiding a task out of fear of failing, instead of being criticized, I'm offered support and a second chance. This attitude really does break that mental equation of imperfection = failure and turns in into failure = learning.
This is so much easier said than done, by no means am I even close to mastering it, but I think this mentality needs to be adopted in order to kick the habit of procrastination. It's hard when most of society isn't that forgiving, but low-pressure projects like this writing project, like a passion project, can be a really cool place to start trying to understand how failure can be a growth process; the risk in these scenarios really only belongs to yourself. Finding a safe place where your job/career/academic reputation isn't on the line to explore risk is an essential part of growth that I'm quickly picking up on.
To be frank, I don't know how successful I'll be embodying this mentality moving forward; these are some deep rooted concepts that I feel I've only touched the surface of. But writing out this post has been surprisingly therapeutic and clarifying; maybe it will spark some empathy in people who read it as well. Like I said, I'm not a psychologist; I don't know all the answers. However, I think taking this experience one hurdle at a time is a good place to start. Risk by risk, post by post, hopefully I'll find a way to build the confidence that I'm striving for and grow myself as a writer and person.