Procrastination: The Eighth Deadly Sin

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Eighth Sin.”

Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony are known as the Seven Deadly Sins that we, mere mortals, were taught not to commit or else our souls will burn in hell. Now for the purposes of this writing prompt, I should imagine the Pope emailed me personally (and maybe a bunch of other writers whose souls he thought might be in need of saving ) and asked me to suggest an eighth deadly sin to add to the existing ones.

It didn’t take me long to come up with the idea, because instead of looking around at other lost souls, I looked within. What is my worst sin that could definitely shoot my soul into the depths of Gehenna? Funny, because I just found out that lying isn’t a deadly sin, and then, I remembered Abraham lied twice (Genesis chapters 12 and 20)! That’s right, liars won’t go to hell. However, I’ll stick to the best policy and be honest. My greatest sin, I think, is procrastination. Guilty as charged. Combined with the other seven, I’m damned!

I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung.

~ Rabindarath Tagore

Like many writers, my purpose for writing is to inform, entertain and inspire my readers. I want to become a great writer whose works change lives. Such a lofty aim for someone who barely writes. I have three fiction works in progress and this blog that lurks in my laptop waiting to be written and published, but as you might guess, there’s always something else to do — whether it’s justified as important as cleaning the house, doing the laundry, or socializing on Facebook. I’ll be damned twice!

I needed intervention. Exactly the reason why I joined Blogging 101 in the first place. I’m also reading Akash Karia’s book, Anti-Procrastination for Writers — How to Stop Procrastinating, Start Writing and Create a Daily Writing Habit. I’m not done reading yet, but in the first chapter, Akash points out that writers need self-discipline so we don’t end up wasting the day doing trivial things. We are accountable only to ourselves. He adds that “getting started is the key to beating procrastination” and introduced the solar flaring technique which “refers to starting off by working on a very small piece of the task you’ve been dreading. However, the momentum you gain from starting your task gives you a new burst of energy and allows you to go on to tackle more and more of the project”. Well, that’s just about the book’s first chapter and I’m feeling fired up already.  You won’t be reading this if I’m not, right? So if you’re a sinner like me, stop fidgeting, get your engines warmed up and start writing. Then no one goes to hell.

Pushing The Green Button

Victoria (V.E.) Schwab’s “Just. Keep. Writing.”, published a month ago, just got my writing cogs turning again. This best-selling novelist met frustrations and troubles with her editor and publishers, but kept writing.  Like Schwab and most writers, I get tangled in the daily hubbub of life. I’m also a mother, kitchen queen, laundry techie, broom operator and psychic finder of lost keys. Finding the time to write isn’t supposed to be that hard, but sometimes my writing mind don’t seem to work when I finally get my hands on the keyboard. Staring at the blinking cursor on a blank page of my Scrivener app staring back at me. Then there’s the fear of failure. It stares at me too. What if nobody wants to read my book? What if publishing independently was a bad idea? I know. My mind created these phantoms of uncertainty that’s keeping me from moving forward. I know I have to fight it and just keep writing while staring at Schwab’s words written on a post it note before me:

I keep writing.

Because I know that no matter what happens, I have more ideas, more books.

This is the part of the path we make. The only part we control. Do not sit down. Do not stand still.

Just. Keep. Writing.

Who Am I Blogging For?

“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”

— Ernest Hemingway

When I started this blog, I thought I just wanted to write a writer’s journal and make it private. No one can read it but me. I wanted to chronicle my thoughts as a writer, the new things I’ve learned, my hopes, fears, disappointments — the whole writing enchilada. Well, that plan lasted about a minute.

My more sensible self slapped me awake and clearly told me that it would be pointless to blog without letting anybody read it. It’s pointless and stupid. I just might as well write on Day One. So to keep the story short, I decided to heed the wise hag and made it public. I guess my readers would be fellow writers and lovers of fiction. All the others would be family and friends who are too excited read what I wrote or because I forced them to do so.

To cap it all up, I would like to share what I’ve learned from James Scott Bell’s book, 27 Fiction Writing Blunders – And How Not To Make Them. It may be about fiction writing, but the same goes well for blogging. He said, “There are two ways writers are functionally ignorant when it comes to markets. The first way is to be obsessive about writing only what they think will sell big … The second form of ignorance is … ignorance of markets. That is, writing with absolutely no thought about the readers on the other end.”  Writing or blogging without thought about the readers — who they are, want they want — is like taking the wheel and have absolutely no idea where you’re going.

What if …

The towering question every fiction writer starts out with — “what if …” — fills my Evernote everyday. When ideas for a story suddenly pops into mind ( like when I just stare down at my shoes ), I write it down. I have about a hundred of them lurking in my files waiting to be brainstormed and written. Now, what if I really start writing it?

These kicks inspire me.
These kicks inspire me.

I Shall Write

I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.

Francoise Sagan

For the second time in three years, I hopped in Blogging University’s Blogging 101 class. I thought this should kickstart my blogging life … again. I took the class a couple of years ago but dropped out eventually because I was, at the same time, writing a novel. I worked on that novel with maniacal determination and all else were totally eclipsed. Blogging included. Still a work in progress, I am now in the editing phase of the book but I guess it wouldn’t hurt to spend some time with my blog and learning from the class. As Ernest Hemingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

Researching For The Perfect Medieval Underpants

 

The Capitulary Acts Book of Plasencia, Spain (1499-1513)
The Capitulary Acts Book of Plasencia, Spain (1499-1513)

Writing a historical novel, in my opinion, requires a more tedious kind of research than any genre. I am writing a novel based on Spain during the middle ages where three great religions lived together in communities across the Iberian Peninsula. I am grateful for having the world wide web with all the tools I need for my research — Google provides almost everything from maps on Google Earth, research platform on Google Scholar, translations on Google Translate, etc. — and there are MOOCs!

I have taken MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses since 2012 and have finished about a dozen or more courses mostly in Humanities with Coursera, EdX, Udacity, FutureLearn and Saylor. I must say MOOCs are addictive — life-long learning has never been this great — it’s convenient, it’s exciting, it’s free!

About a couple of months ago, Coursera offered a new course entitled Deciphering Secrets: Unlocking the Manuscripts of Medieval Spain with University of Colorado Professors Kathryn Andrus and Roger Louis Martinez-Davila. The course info said: “In this course students will explore the history of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in late medieval, fifteenth century Spain. Serving as citizen-scholars, students will learn about the positive and negative elements of inter-religious co-existence in Plasencia, Spain, and more importantly, contribute to an international scholarly effort by helping transcribe manuscripts … Serving as citizen-scholars, students will learn about the positive and negative elements of inter-religious co-existence in Plasencia, Spain, and more importantly, contribute to an international scholarly effort known as the Revealing Cooperation and Conflict Project.”  Aside from benefiting from the course, I shall be contributing to a scholarly project as well — awesome! I almost fell of my seat when I saw this and enrolled right away.

Now on its third week, I have already amassed a plethora of invaluable information from the region’s medieval political upheavals to the recipes of authentic Byzantine cuisine from al Andalus. Aside from the very informative and well-prepared lecture presentations of Prof. Martinez, I learn a lot from the online forums within the course. Students from all over the world support and motivate each other. Even if the Course Instructors can’t possibly respond to most forum queries, Community Teaching Assistants are always around to cover this limitation. Although forum discussions are often interesting and insightful, there are also times when it becomes too heated that I had to take a break and focus on other tasks. Religion is a touchy subject — and we are not talking of just one but three major world religions — touchy indeed!

Perhaps research is the most tedious part of writing historical fiction but for me, it’s an enjoyable task. I don’t want my medieval characters wearing underpants that wasn’t even part of their wardrobe during that period. I want my novel to be historically accurate, one reason I delve so deeply into research. As Susanne Alleyn points out in her book, Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (& Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, & Myths:

General Rule
No. 1
Never Assume

There’s an old wisecrack that goes: “Never assume something, because when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.”

This is especially true of writing and researching historical fiction.

Never assume anything about the details of historical events or daily life in the past!

Look it up!

Writers Inspiring Writers

George Charles Beresford, 1902
A portrait photograph of Virginia Woolf by George Charles Beresford, 1902

“I wanted mystery, romance, psychology I suppose. And now more than anything I want beautiful prose. I relish it more and more exquisitely. And I enjoy satire more …  I enjoy intellectuality.” — Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

I guess every writer, who take their art seriously, have been inspired by other writers — dead or alive, young or old, famous or otherwise. My love of writing started with my love for reading. I’ve read perhaps a thousand books running the gamut from mystery to history, romance to theology, fantasy to conspiracy theory. For me, books are like chocolate. Delicious. Seductive. Addictive.

“Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast. By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.” — Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

When I decided I wanted to start writing fiction, I took a lot of inspiration from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. I imagined she had read my mind when she wrote, “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” 

J. D. Salinger

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” — J. D. Salinger

My sentiments exactly. I wish J. D. Salinger were my friend after reading The Catcher In The Rye. I would have invited him for dinner and talk about Holden Caulfield’s rebellious character ( because my son is beginning to act like him ). Or join Ernest Hemingway on his boat and sail to Cuba for a week while he gives me tips on writing well.

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” — Ernest Hemingway

So be it.