Monday, July 20, 2009

Avoidant personality disorder*

Almost every day that I write, I begin by avoiding writing. Some days I'm so successful that I don't write at all, but most days I eventually settle down to it. After I:
-Call or instant-message a friend

-Discover a bunch of magazines or journals that I really have to plow through and get out of my life and my living room

-Look at pictures of shelter cats online and think about adopting a second one


-Browse and fantasize about a summer or leave semester abroad

-Crack open those books from inter-library loan

-Balance my chequebook
Indeed, if I get interrupted in my writing, I sometimes go through this process all over again: I settle down to work and within 60 seconds have lept back up to do something else.

Nevertheless, I am working, and I'm taking comfort in the argument that self-discipline breeds more self-discipline.

Right now I'm revising what was the first chapter of my dissertation and is now the second chapter of my book. I've got a core of basically strong readings that I have to rework to fit my now rather different argument, relate closely to a chapter that previously didn't exist, and strip of the embarrassingly tendentious and unscholarly surrounding verbiage that I was very proud of 4-7 years ago.

So I'm doing my usual plodding series of revisions by hand: 10-15 pages a day of careful, interlineated changes; input onto computer when done; print out new draft; repeat. With each round I know there's stuff I'm missing--I get so wrapped up in one paragraph that I forget what happens two pages later and that I need to set up or lead into in some way--but I figure I'll catch it in the next round. Or the one after that.

Gradually, it sucks less. In the end it might not suck at all. And the process isn't without its pleasures--but it's certainly not as compelling as kittens, apartments in Florence, or even the mysteriously tenacious crud in my bathtub.

*Dude, it's totally in the DSM.


What Now? said...

I've had that same Penelope Trunk post open in my web browser since she posted it, apparently hoping that seeing the article regularly will motivate me to kick my pathetic self-discipline into gear. Hasn't happened yet, but a girl can dream.

I think that 10-15 pages of revision a day sounds very productive!

Sisyphus said...

This is totally my method (look at how I am reading/responding to you right away when I am _supposed_ to save The Internet as my after-work reward, for example).

And yeah, I hate revision --- the whole "gradually it sucks less and less until you finally think, hey it looks good; that was easy, what took me so long?" business. Instant amnesia, let me tell you. It makes each attempt to revise something else such a pain.

PS want to write an article for me? It'll be a fun break for you! ;)

life_of_a_fool said...

this is my process too! I like the framing of "it sucks less." I don't always achieve Sisyphus' end point though. It's more touch and go -- I think it's great, then it's complete trash, and then I just don't know what to think. I'm not sure I've ever managed the "hey it looks good!" for an extended period of time.

life_of_a_fool said...

o.k., I did *not* need the idea of looking at shelter cats online!

Digger said...

Writing the first draft is the killer for me. Editing I find easier, though I still avoid it. Writing first draft = chain to desk, email addiction screaming in my ear, "oooh, 5 more minutes..." Edits = get showered, get dressed, get OUT of the house. Edit by hand. Return home and enter changes. Just have to be careful not to over-caffienate.

Flavia said...

Just here to help, LoaF; just here to help.

And Sis: you know, even though nothing prevents my avoidancy, every single time I have to write or revise something, the process is much less psychologically painful now than it used to be, by virtue of the fact that I'm pretty confident that whatever I'm writing will stop sucking eventually, if I just keep at it.

Doesn't make the daily work any more fun, but there's less freakoutery and panic underlying it.

Flavia said...

Digger: I'm exactly the same way. I hate and avoid the first draft with a fiery passion. Editing really isn't bad by comparison.

moria said...

1. Oh man. Yes.
2. Get a second cat. I mean, for real. Cat! Do it. Caaaaaat. I do the shelter-browse too, and sometimes something even worse. I browse dogs, knowing full well I can't have one. This City is full of recovering fight dogs, sometimes racers. And I can't help them. So I just browse, and then cry. Not productive.
3. This post is oddly motivating: so thanks.

Digger said...

Moira - It never ceases to amaze me how wonderful it is to not be the only one! "It's not just me being all messed up. It's just how it WORKS!"

Anonymous said...

Yeah, ditto--I've always been ashamed of my own avoidant tendencies, and it's comforting to know that most everyone else works the same way. (As long as we don't kid ourselves that it's a virtue!) The reason, I think, is pretty simple: if you write, writing is always the hardest thing you do, and so distractions are tempting. The most insidious distractions, I find, are semi-virtuous ones like vacuuming. OK, back to work. Cheers, TG

John Yeoman said...

True, editing is a delight; composition sucks. The answer, I've found, is displacement therapy. Mow the lawn three unnecessary times. Then a return to composition can be seen as welcome relief.

Alternatively, proofread the adverts in the local newspaper. Award yourself a cookie for every misuse you spot of 'it's'.

Pamphilia said...

I can't decide which makes me like you more- the sheltercats procrastination or the fact that you call it a "chequebook."

Oh, and me too, though my pre-writing activities also include cleaning the house and puttering around the garden.