Soooooo, guess what? Summer’s finally here. I’ve got all the time in the world…
And I don’t feel like writing.
The reasons are varied, and maybe you can relate: After a long, wet winter, summer has finally arrived in Portland. The afternoon skies are so sharply blue, it nearly hurts my eyes to look at them. This beauty only lasts so long. So, every day at lunch, I find myself drifting onto my balcony, where a faded lounger and a novel rob me of any interest I might have in writing.
I’m also running again, which means I’m using up a fair amount of discipline to heave my 47-year-old body out of bed at the crack of dawn and fling it down the road several miles. By the time I’ve stretched, showered, walked the dog and fed us both, it seems like the middle of the day, not the beginning. At that point, it’s way harder to make myself write, as I’ve nearly depleted my reservoir of self control.
I could go on: Spanish conversation class, hosting dinner for a vegetarian couple (what the hell are we gonna make?!), tricking out my tiny balcony garden—all these things are much more attractive than writing. Not to mention visits from dear Chicago friends, day trips to the Oregon coast, my annual Fun+Food Fest with my brother. It all adds up to the same old thing: I’m distracted by all the fun in my life, and I just don’t wanna work.
There. I’ve said it.
I do not want to work.
Despite the guilt and shame most scholars feel when we encounter this feeling, there’s actually nothing wrong with it at all. In fact, despite what Merriam-Webster says,
the unwillingness to work is both natural and necessary, especially if you want to write regularly and generate good ideas. If you’ve read this blog before, you know both the research and I are big fans of listening to yourself and giving yourself a break if that’s what you need. When you’re afraid, exhausted, or facing other demands that matter more than writing, being “lazy” is the best thing you can do.
The problem I’ve been having, though, is a little bit different. I got plenty of energy, lotsa confidence, and big blocks of time to do with as I like. And I still don’t want to write. I do however, want to get my writing done. In other words, the barrier I’m facing is having two competing desires, each equally strong as the other: write and don’t write.
This is the same thing that’s happening when you know you really want to make a semester plan so you can get a handle on everything you should be focusing on, but you don’t want to take the time to make it or have to deal with all the detail-oriented thinking. It’s the same thing that’s happening when you want to write a stunningly crisp literature review, but don’t want to take the time to read all the books, ‘cause it doesn’t feel like work. When you want the thing done but can’t quite stand the doing, what’s the solution?
My suggestion is...Lie.
* * *
I learned this trick from my running self, who, you may remember, is also quite “lazy,” especially when the weather is cold. So on those days when I don’t/do want to go running, I swing my legs over the side of the bed and say to myself “I’m not going running, I’m just getting out of bed.”
Then I put on my running clothes and say to myself “I’m not going running, I just put on my tights ‘cause I’m cold.”
Then I put on my shoes and walk out the door and say to myself, “I’m not going running, I’m just seeing how cold it is out there.”
You get the idea, right? Two minutes later I’m outside on the pavement and it’s cold, and it’s dark—just like it was 10 minutes ago when I was contemplating running from the warmth of my bed. The difference is I’m already outside and it’s getting lighter by the minute, so why don’t I just go on ahead and go for a run? Fifteen minutes after that, I’m warmed up, gliding down the east side of the Willamette River. And, I won’t lie, I’m feeling pretty self satisfied. The cold weather clouds are billowing out in endlessly gorgeous shades of grey, and I’m feeling pretty happy, ‘cause—oh right…I actually like running once I get into it.
Same thing with writing.
I didn’t actually want to sit down to write this blog. I wanted to be writing it. I especially wanted to have written it already so I could meet my monthly deadline. And I definitely wanted all those nice emails I get from you all after you’ve read it.
So to get myself to work on this piece, I walked into my office and said, “I’m not writing, I’m just going in my office to see if it’s messy or not.”
Then I opened Word and said “I'm not writing, I’m just going to see what the draft looks like.”
Then I read a couple paragraphs and said, “I’m not writing, I’m just going to change this one sentence so it makes more sense.”
Bam! All of the sudden I’m writing.
The reason this works isn’t that I’m a great liar. Obviously, I know I’m lying to myself, so no one’s being fooled. The reason this works is because I do two things simultaneously that ease one’s way into the work.
First, I take small, incomplete steps toward the dreaded activity I do/don’t want to do. Notice I said “toward” the activity. Not “of” the activity. So you don’t want to just plunk yourself down on the couch and pop open your laptop. Good heavens, no. That’ll just cause you to revolt. You’ve got to break down the approach to the laptop into infinitesimally small pieces. The idea here is that nothing is happening, that each step is so miniscule and inconsequential that there’s nothing for you to revolt against.
This strategy is merely a variation on one of the primary skills of a strong writer, which is breaking things down into manageable bits. Typically, you’ll hear this advice when you’re having trouble planning your writing, or feeling overwhelmed by the scope of the task once you’ve planned it. In this case, you want to apply the strategy before the act of writing. You sorta sneak up on yourself until you’re past your own defenses and helpless against the attack.
The second reason this strategy works is that, while taking those small, incomplete steps, I keep up a steady stream of internal reassurances that these steps do not, under any circumstances constitute a commitment to the activity itself. What’s nice about this internal dialogue is that it replaces other options for self-talk that are death to writing: complaints about having to write; cataloguing of your writing fears; and the question of whether you should write at all.
Once you start these dialogues, your chances of actually getting writing done is significantly diminished. Fear especially can hijack your capacity to reason, and you’ll soon find yourself with a bucketful of excuses that are hard to wade through. But if you can head off those agitating voices with a less threatening, less provocative form of self talk, your chances of getting your butt in the chair are a lot higher.
* * *
The point I’m trying to make here is that it doesn’t matter if you want to work or not. Feeling “lazy” doesn’t mean anything about who you are as a person. It doesn’t make you a
And feeling “lazy” doesn’t mean anything about whether or not you’re actually able to get the writing done. It just means you’re a human being, one who sometimes needs a way to seduce themselves to work. Try it out, and see what happens. Then, you can go outside and enjoy the rest of your summer.
That’s how a lazy liar gets her writing done.
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Michelle Boyd. Writer, Scholar, Coach