Don’t Pre-Reject, Don’t Procrastinate

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These are two recent pieces I’ve really liked about the strange head-games artistic types play on themselves. I hope you like them, too.

The first is from Chuck Wendig, about “pre-rejection.” Warning, readers. Chuck swears a great deal.

See if you’ve ever done this:

You wrote something. Maybe you edited it. Maybe you didn’t. Maybe you didn’t even finish it. Then, you concoct a series of reasons inside your head why nobody will give a hot wet fuck about it. Nobody will wanna read it. Nobody will wanna buy it. You’ve got your reasons — maybe one reason, maybe a whole catalog full of them. And frankly? They all sound good. This isn’t the one, you tell yourself. It’s not yet right. And soon it becomes smart because, hey, you don’t want that thing you wrote out there. This is a sound business decision. This is a practical creative decision. Not everything you write is going to be aces. And so you open a drawer and you chuck this manuscript into it. It lands on top of five, ten, twenty others. A cloud of dust kicks up like an allergenic mushroom cloud — poof. And then you close the drawer.

That is pre-rejection.

You have killed the thing you created because you imagine its inevitable rejection.

It’s the same way you don’t ask that guy out because you already know how he’ll say no, and it’ll be embarrassing, and jeez even if you did date, he’d probably be a jerk, and even if he wasn’t a jerk, the marriage you’d eventually have would suck, and the kids would be shitheads, and it’d end in divorce and misery and death.

What I liked about this is how Wendig describes pre-rejection as a defence mechanism. We pre-reject because it hurts less. Better to reject your own work yourself than allow someone else to reject it, because that would really sting.

Of course, this means, over the long term, that you have no chance of success, either.

You need to be not just ready for rejection — you need to be willing to embrace rejection. Not your own — but proper rejection. Rejection you don’t control.

The whole piece is here. Again, prepare for some swearing.

The second is from Shawn Blanc, about the life-destroying power of procrastination.

To play devil’s advocate, in some ways putting off a project or task until the last minute can have some benefits. Eventually you’ll be forced to make a choice: are you going to do the project or not? Assuming you decide to do it, then by nature of waiting until the very last minute, you’ll be forced to focus on it (though probably immediately and under stress). But at least you’ve finally started to work on it and at least you’re focused. Right?

Blanc quickly demolishes his own devil advocation, pointing out that, consciously or not, you’ll be thinking about that task when you should be doing other things, that you’ll be stressed when you’ll finally get to it. Procrastinating until the deadline never gets you in your best creative mood.

Surely the most common reason to procrastinate is a lack of motivation. If we were motivated (or, instead of “motivated”, use the word “excited”) to accomplish a task, then we’d be doing it.

Oftentimes it takes that looming deadline or some other external force to motivate us to finally take care of the task. Or, if it’s a task with no deadline, we may find ourselves putting it off for months, if not years. “I’ll get to it someday,” we tell ourselves.

Meanwhile, there are other things we have no trouble staying motivated to do. Such as making time to eat, sleep, be with our family, read a book, watch a movie, go to the mall, go to our job, play video games, etc. And oftentimes it is these other tasks and hobbies that we turn to when we are procrastinating. For example, instead of cleaning out the garage like we’ve been meaning to, we watch a movie. Or instead of working on the next chapter of our book, we play a video game.

How then do we beat procrastination? Is the answer to only ever work on projects we’re excited about? If you were making a living from your passion, would you never deal with procrastination again?

Nope.

The adrenaline we get from fresh motivation only lasts so long. It’s awesome while it lasts, but it comes and goes. Don’t blame your tendency to procrastinate and your lack of motivation on external circumstances.

Blanc’s argument, which I recommend in full, is that we creative types have to look at our work as a daily practice, a continual effort. That must be the focus, not the dreaming of the completed book or website that we one day hope to have created. It’s the simple act of repeatedly working that makes the difference.

Not that dream of the finished task, but our daily practice of creativity, is where the magic truly is.

Procrastination robs us of this. It keeps us from showing up every day. It tells us that instead of showing up every day, we can just cram at the last minute. It tells us that there is always tomorrow. It lies to us, saying that just because we’re ignoring this task again and again doesn’t mean we’ve quit.

The only difference between a quitter and an habitual procrastinator is that the latter is lying to herself.

If what I’m saying is true, then procrastination is perhaps the greatest enemy to producing meaningful work. Because not only does procrastination keep us from doing the work, but in so doing, it also robs us from the process of sitting down every day to be creative.

Thinking about these two artistic vices, I can easily see myself suffering more from pre-rejection than procrastination. How about you?

7 thoughts on “Don’t Pre-Reject, Don’t Procrastinate

  1. I’m like you, Daniel. Procrastination is less a problem than pre-rejection. We get so conditioned by “real” rejection from editors and agents, that perhaps we start to adopt it as a default response to our work. It’s so difficult to remain dispassionate about the rejection realities of being a writer, while staying passionate about the writing itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Add playing the comparison game to this lethal combination, and you pretty much have me. More pre-rejection than procrastination. I sit down to write and the only thing that comes to mind is: I have X number of hours before kiddo arrives home from school/hubby from work before dinner needs to be planned and made, cleaning, laundry, pets, homework, Boy Scouts, karate, maintaining author platform via social media, check out other peoples blogs/like/comment so I’ll receive some of that myself, etc., etc,, etc., then feel guilty for making excuses.

    Like

  3. Reblogged this on Tory Thames and commented:
    It seems like the new thing is being real with oneself, if that is the case, then be ready for a kick to the gut. It’s not going to be pretty. It definitely won’t be easy.

    I know I do both of these and almost daily. And I am a successful person. But I also know, I can be even more successful.

    I can have that ever-elusive, extraordinary life. If you want that kind of like, follow through. These three articles are not just about what the problem is, but they follow through with ‘how to fix.’

    Just be prepared for that kick. Simply step forward take 15 or so minutes reading, then get back to work.

    Good Luck!

    Like

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