Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Angst Project

My book club is reading The Happiness Project, in which the author journals her month-by-month progress in nailing down attitudes and habits that will give her a better appreciation for the happiness she already has. You know, a beautiful house … but it’s cluttered. A wonderful husband … but she nags him. Good health … but she’s always tired. And so on.

I’m only a few chapters in, but I’m salivating over her to-do lists and am tempted to carbon copy her journey. My bookclubmates, however, are muttering vague, disparaging remarks, and their chins are drool dry. Since I’m not as far along in the book as they are, I figure either the author goes where no sane woman would dare to go, or my mates simply aren’t devout to-do-listers. Whatever, I know better than to get caught up. I’m a good beginner but a poor continuer. Every month I throw away my to-do list and start over.

Nevertheless, I like the concept of dealing with obstacles that are … well, stupid. Stupid that they’re hindrances, stupid that I allow them, stupid that they even exist in the first place. In particular, I’m thinking of why I let myself get distracted from writing. Last week I had two whole days—TWO WHOLE DAYS!—free to write, with no one and nothing to divert my attention. And what did I do? Yep, wasted time with distractions.

So I did a bit of analysis and came up with the fact that I let myself get distracted because I’m anxious. Is my writing good enough? Will I show not tell? Get the scene goal expressed? Tilt the tension up? Draw the reader in? Avoid my fav expressions? Get my MRUs straight? Reach a dark moment? Remember to have a sequel?

The more I learn about writing, the more my angst increases.

Remember when writing used to be fun?

But I can’t go back. I don’t want to go back. I actually do love making progress, painful as it is.

So I’ve started my own little project. The Angst Project. What attitudes and actions will help reduce my anxiety and up my productivity? So far I’ve come up with five.

1.     Work on more than one writing project at a time. I have four—two fiction and two non-fiction. When I slave over just one of them, my angst is high and distraction operates at peak level. Now I select at least two projects and commit to them for the day. I don’t know why, but spreading out the angst reduces my stress. I don’t need distractions. Only coffee. And chocolate.

2.      Allot a minimum of an hour to each project. Progress on one encourages progress on another, which stimulates a can-do attitude that keeps me energized.

3.     Feel free to jump back and forth between projects. No biting the bullet to get one project out of the way, only to end up with high angst over the remaining project.

4.     If a project starts to roll, go for it! Where there’s no angst, there’s no need for restraint.

5.     Have a planned, profitable distraction ready to go. Laundry, a few bills to write, a sink full of dirty dishes—something to fuss over if my distraction-addiction needs feeding. Something good that needs to get done, but that I’m glad to set aside as soon as I can.

So, I’m curious … do you know why you let yourself get distracted?

by Steph Prichard


  1. I loved this post--I feel like I wrote it. It mimics my life way too much! Thanks for the post :)

  2. Thanks, Sheila. It's good to know I have a distraction-tortured bosom buddy out there!