I have too many projects in the works and I can’t decide which to do first. So none of them is getting done. I’ve succumbed to paralysis by analysis.
Do I spend the next hour on the main Work in Progress, or the other WIP, or the other WIP (or the other WIP)? Do I type up notes I’ve taken from the myriad of Lincoln books I’ve recently read? Do I read one of the half-finished books on my nightstand? How about planning the next road trip? Following up on the appointments I need to make? What about writing for the much neglected Dake Page? Another Science Traveler or HWS article? Pitch an article for Civil War Times or some other magazine? Write book reviews for the next Lincolnian? Catch up on the reading for the Lincoln book study group, for which I’ve managed so get far behind? Attend this event or that event?
The fact is I need to do all of the above, and yet seem to do none of the above. So I’m writing this Hot White Snow post instead.
Which is something else I’ve been behind on. I normally shoot for a post a week here on HWS but have managed only three in over six weeks so far this year (today’s will be four in seven weeks – I’m catching up!). Some of this paralysis is writer’s block, some due to traveling, and some because I’m trying to juggle too many balls in the air only to stare at them all at my feet as I contemplate which to pick up first. [This last analogy is both figurative and literal as one of my (more or less) daily activities is to juggle for exercise and hand-eye coordination.]
As a scientist I tend to analyze things to death. As a historian I tend to research things to death. As a writer with more than a touch of ADD I tend to get easily distracted to death. Okay, I procrastinate to death. There, I said it. I procrastinate because I can’t focus on one thing long enough to get it done. Or at least that’s the analysis of the day.
Which makes me marvel at the fact that I have written three traditionally published books, plus two specialty e-books. How on earth did I manage that, and in record time for each, when I can’t seem to focus more than a minute at a time? Having a deadline helps. In fact, it seems to be the only thing that keeps me on track. This was true with term papers in high school and college (I always waited until the last moment, wrote like the devil, turned in the first draft, and usually got an “A,” thus reinforcing the bad habit). It was also true with reports and papers during my scientific career, as well as for my first three published books. For the latter I had contracts stipulating a specific date to submit; if I missed it I wouldn’t get paid or published. Worked like a charm.
Which is why the various WIP are still WIP and not on the shelves of Barnes and Noble and Amazon (luckily, my three earlier books are still in both). I need publishing contracts, which means finishing the proposals, which means open-ended deadlines, which means still WIP. I need that deadline. And no, setting my own deadlines doesn’t help. Since there is no legal or financial penalty for not meeting them, I pass them by and reset them. My calendar is filled with deadlines crossed out and moved to future dates.
So how do I get these things done? Clearly my current strategy (which isn’t really a strategy; it’s more of a default inertia) isn’t working. Should I set times of day to write and stick to them? A time to plan trips? A time to read? A time to plant? A time to reap? A time to laugh? A time to weep? Wait, the Byrds? Seriously, I have the Byrds’ “Turn Turn Turn” stuck in my head.
Enough. Enough with the analysis. Enough with the paralysis. It’s time to go full Nike.
Just do it.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.
[Photo Credit: Nike swoosh logo]