What I did: This civil religion article won't die
Grade for the day: C-
This afternoon, I'm meeting with some colleagues to discuss writing. We have been asked to bring along our favorite writing tips. I guess I could just Google some lists out there and pass them off as my own. Nothing wrong with that, right? #DonaldTrumpsAmerica
Honestly, though, those lists only elevate my anxiety. They always cite Super Productive People and their Awesomely Disciplined Writing Habits.
Oh great. Thanks for reminding me about my sucky writing habits.
My preference is something like Megan McArdle's piece in The Atlantic, "Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators."
Like most writers, I am an inveterate procrastinator. In the course of writing this one article, I have checked my e-mail approximately 3,000 times, made and discarded multiple grocery lists, conducted a lengthy Twitter battle over whether the gold standard is actually the worst economic policy ever proposed, written Facebook messages to schoolmates I haven’t seen in at least a decade, invented a delicious new recipe for chocolate berry protein smoothies, and googled my own name several times to make sure that I have at least once written something that someone would actually want to read.As far as confessions go, this one is both familiar and comforting. I know that there are writers out there with a monkish ability to block out the distractions and zero in on their task. They crank out thousands of words a day, resulting in a mountain of books, articles, and other assorted writings. Nothing can hold them back.
But it doesn't take all that much to hold me back. Compost needs emptied? Oh, I can do that! Hey look, that grass is getting high. But the lawnmower blade looks dull. This will take all day.
Yep. I am the Prince of Procrastination. I watch over the territories of Guilt, Shame, and Anxiety. I will admit, though, that nothing keeps me up at night like a looming deadline. You'd think that this would motivate me to finish, but.... I just keep losing sleep. Because I'm a mess.
So with that, I offer my....
Top Five Writing Tips For Serial Procrastinators
- Have a convincing answer for the question "How's the book coming?": Editors, colleagues, administrators, and friends all want to know how your writing is going. If you're not good at lying, get good at it. Your words and demeanor both need to sell an image of you feverishly writing and researching, making sure that every sentence is perfect and every detail is thoroughly contextualized. When you answer, keep it short and direct. "It's about three-quarters done," will suffice (remember, you're lying). So will "It's coming together." Make sure to change the topic, or, if absolutely necessary, trigger a fire alarm. You don't need to answer any pesky follow-up questions about release dates.
- Convince yourself that social media is invaluable for your professional development. When you're knee-deep in a paragraph, it's time to see what your old friend Facebook is up to. Two hours later, you'll have your fill of cat videos and political rants from people you vaguely knew in high school but now act like your virtual BFF. You will also COMPLETELY forget what you were writing about. Sure, you could feel guilty. But what would that prove? I mean, that listicle posted by George Takei really made you think. So embrace the intellectual vortex that is your social media word. And tell yourself that this is how you stay connected to the broader academic world--or something like that.
- Start following college or professional football, or join a fantasy league. The elections are over and we all need a break. So dive in to the great opiate of the masses, FOOTBALL! Yea, yea, concussions, greed, lifelong physical harm, and exploitation. But OH MAN DID YOU SEE THAT HIT! And if you think the comments sections in the New York Times are bad, check out the message boards for college and professional football. WHOOOOWEEEEE! Finally, nothing proves your worth as a human being more than success in fantasy sports. That's the kind of thing that goes on a gravestone.
- Find an online game that middle-schoolers play and DOMINATE it. My son recently introduced me to Splix.io. It's a superb allegory for colonial conquest. You capture land, you lose land, and you try to crush anyone who gets too close to you. I'm not saying that I have played when I should have been writing. And I'm also not saying that my son has caught me playing when I should have been writing. But he should have been doing school stuff too. Like father like son.
- When all else fails, turn to the Academic Sentence Generator. As the website says, "Too lazy to write it yourself? Let the Virtual Academic do it for you." Just select a few options on the drop-down menus, and you get something like... "The reification of desire invests itself in the authentication of the public sphere." This site would be funny if it weren't so much like the real thing. Oh Alan Sokal. It's time for a sequel to, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity." (If you don't know about this one, click here and witness every stereotype about academic writing being confirmed.)