The Procrastinating Writer

If you’ve read any of my blog posts, you probably know one thing about me:

I like to procrastinate.

Well. Wait. That’s not really true. I don’t like to procrastinate; I need to procrastinate. Yes, there is a big difference.

One thing I know about my writing – or anything in my life – is this:  If it feels wrong, if it feels forced, there’s a reason for it. Something with a capital S is telling me wait a minute, hang back, let’s see where this is going, this isn’t quite right, we need to regroup . . . a bit like Bill Paxton’s character in Twister when he thinks the tornado is going to change tracks and if they keep going they’re going to be right in its path.

A lot of people procrastinate for the wrong reasons – they’re bored, or they don’t want to do the work. That’s NOT what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, until yesterday when I heard this fantastic TED talk by Adam Grant. Here’s the link:

Grant is also the author of a book I almost bought yesterday, Originals:  How Nonconformists Move the World, and his belief is this:  procrastinators are more likely to be creative, and more likely to be world-movers, than non-procrastinators. Let me be clear:  this doesn’t apply to all procrastinators!!!!!! Some are just goof-offs and there’s nothing to be done there. But for some us – and yes, I’m including myself in this subset for one very good reason – procrastination serves a purpose.

It gives us space to think.

It gives us space to be creative.

Seriously. Walk with me for a minute. Let me explain.

We’ve all had writer’s block, yes? I don’t need to explain the mechanics of it to you – the numbing doubts, the overwhelming choices, the dread of putting fingers to keyboard and finding nothing there. Some will tell you it doesn’t even exist; some will tell you the only way to get through it is to keep writing, even if it’s nothing more than dribbles of cold pudding. Write, damn it! Write! Write! Write! Sort of like a prison guard telling prisoners to move these cement blocks over here and stack them and now take them and move them over there and don’t you dare stop! There’s no purpose to moving the cement blocks; it’s just something to keep the prisoners active. Writing, when you have writer’s block, can be the same way.

Here’s what I find, and this was the big revelation for me in Grant’s TED talk:  procrastinating gives you the chance to, as he puts it, “doubt the default.” You were 100% sure your novel was going in X direction. But then you get writer’s block. Why? Maybe your brain is doubting the default. Maybe this isn’t the best idea after all. Maybe it’s trite, overdone. Maybe it’s not what your characters would really do. Maybe, if you walk away for a bit, you’ll come up with something better. Here’s what Grant had to say about that:

Vuja de is when you look at something you’ve seen many times before and all of a sudden see it with fresh eyes. It’s a screenwriter who looks at a movie script that can’t get the green light for more than half a century. In every past version, the main character has been an evil queen. But Jennifer Lee starts to question whether that makes sense. She rewrites the first act, reinvents the villain as a tortured hero and ‘Frozen’ becomes the most successful animated movie ever. So there’s a simple message from this story. When you feel doubt, don’t let it go.”

Because here’s the thing:  your brain doesn’t stop thinking about your novel and your characters just because you’re not writing actively. It’s still processing. Somewhere, deep inside, little gears and gizmos are whirling away. Or alternatively, your characters are waiting for you to listen to them again. However you personally look at it. 🙂 Grant noticed this, too:  he said that one reason we like to-do lists is because once we cross something off the list, we can stop thinking about it. But those ideas we procrastinate on? We can’t cross those off the list. They’re just – there. So our brain works on them. We may not know what to do about them. We may not want to do anything about them. We may not know what direction to take next. It’s okay.

We’re procrastinating with a purpose.

Grant talked about this as well. He was writing the book I mentioned above, and had a chapter on procrastination. So:

I thought, “This is the perfect time to teach myself to procrastinate, while writing a chapter on procrastination.” So I metaprocrastinated, and like any self-respecting procrastinator, I woke up early the next morning and I made a to-do list with steps on how to procrastinate. And then I worked diligently toward my goal of not making progress toward my goal. I started writing the procrastination chapter, and one day — I was halfway through — I literally put it away in mid-sentence for months. It was agony. But when I came back to it, I had all sorts of new ideas.

So being a procrastinator can help generate new ideas and more creative angles and solutions to problems than forcing yourself to work through to the end.

Right now, I’m stuck again on Nicky. I had that great revelation a few weeks ago about how the rest of the novel should flow, and that opened me up to a wonderful, absolutely wonderful, run of writing. But now – I’m stuck again.

I’m not worried, though. I’ve been here before. I’ll be here again, with Nicky and with other books. I’m procrastinating, but I trust the process. (Meanwhile, these two new characters just showed up on my doorstep one night to ask if I’d write their story and of course I said yes, get in queue . . . but they’ve decided they’d rather try to jump ahead of everyone else.)

So that last bit is very important – I’m not not writing. I’m still generating ideas and jotting down scenes and listening to these two characters and their crazy romance and doing research. It’s just that I know if I push it on Nicky right now, I will get crap. I don’t want crap. I don’t want to waste time on crap. More importantly, it won’t be the right crap. It won’t be anything I can work with. I know that about myself and my habits by now. Heck, even if I walk away from writing completely for a while, I know I can come back to it and pick up where I left off.

Of course, you can’t procrastinate forever. And there’s a very fine line between creatively procrastinating and being lazy. One gives you space to generate creativity; the other generates nothing.

But if you’re stuck on your novel – give it a try.


Here’s some other links on the same topic:


When life hands you kittens . . .

babies 1Tiny:  Hey, Mum, here we are on Day Four, and you know, when you crawled over all those hay bales and climbed down the barn wall to get to us, I figured we were goners – ’cause, you know, our real mom sort of left us. But there you were, and you bundled us up and then climbed all the way back out again and here we are!

Maximus:  First, let me say THANK YOU for finally figuring out my True Name. I mean, the nickname you had for me those first couple of days was cute, but let’s get real here:  my name is Maximus Imperius, not “Dr. Phil.” I yowl because I NEED THINGS NOW.

Tiny:  Ignore him, Mum. He really does know that you saved us. And the way you get up every two hours to feed us – even though we know you’re tired. I mean, our eyes aren’t open yet and we really can’t hear anything, but we know you’re tired. We don’t mean to be problems when we can’t find the eyedropper – that’s just not what it’s supposed to be, you know? But the new formula you crawled out of your death bed and went to the vet to get? That stuff is YUMMY!

I started this blog post seven weeks ago, when these two, Maximus Imperius and Tiny, arrived. (Maximus has the white; Tiny is the solid gray tabby.)

They were premature; a feral momma cat had four babies in the barn, and abandoned them. I found them hours later, nearly frozen to death. Maximus and Tiny survived, although they are still behind on certain things – their eyes opened late, they started crawling and running around a bit late, they’re just now able to sleep through the night without a 2am feeding, and although Maximus is eating canned food like the world will run out in a week, Tiny just discovered how yummy it can be yesterday. THANK GOODNESS. 🙂

It’s been a huge struggle to raise these two. I was already sick, exhausted, and depressed whbabies 2en they arrived. Going four weeks without any quality sleep only added to that. I started a full-time job in August that I am not used to yet and frankly, I don’t feel I belong there, which only adds to the stress. But I could not leave them there to die. And once I’d taken them in, I was in it for the long haul.

For the first two and a half weeks, they were so little that they ate with an eyedropper. And OMG, that was so hard. Lay them in your lap. Hold them just so. Get the eyedropper in their mouth and squeeze, just a teensy bit at a time. Repeat. I’ve raised many kittens, but never from Day 1, and never premature kittens. At nearly three weeks, they finally graduated to the bottle. I almost cried that day!

Today, they are healthy, thriving little things. Maximus has discovered, the last few days, that he loves to sit on my shoulder and survey his domain – my bathroom – while Tiny prefers to curl up in my lap and stare up at me with those huge blue eyes, so trusting and so loving. Though they are seven weeks old, they are really about two weeks behind in development in some areas, as I said, but they are incredibly smart. For instance, I left them out one night to run around while I did a few things and fed the other animals, and when I came back, the bathroom was empty. Just – no kittens! Small panic attack – and then I heard purring. They’d gotten back in their crate, curled up, and gone back to sleep. 🙂 It may take them longer to learn to eat on their own, and they may always be the teeniest, tiniest cats around, but it doesn’t matter.

I really don’t know what the future holds for me at this point. I’m pretty sure I didn’t need two more cats, but sometimes, the universe gives us the things we need rather than the things we want. Our job is just to trust that it’ll sort itself out in the end, I guess. And trust is not my strong suit. But I’m at a point where I look at my life – I look at the things I used to want, and I look at the plans I had, and the things I wanted to do – and I don’t even recognize any of them anymore. I don’t feel remotely connected to anything in my life. I no longer know what I want.

But for the past seven weeks, what I’ve wanted is for these two to survive. So far, so good.



Photo Challenge: Beneath Your Feet

snail 1 vg

About a mile from my house, along my running route, there’s a place where the snails love to congregate. And after it rains, they come out of the ditches and cross the road. I have no idea why the snails cross the road. But I always spend way too much time picking them up and moving them so they don’t get squished by cars.

On this particular day in May, I had my camera and got down on the road to photograph this snail as he made his way across. Then I gently picked him up and moved him into the ditch with a few hundred or so of his family members. 🙂

Here’s the cover of my debut Young Adult novel due out June 2nd, 2015. Go to for a chance to win one of five ARC copies!

I believe the ARC contest ends Oct. 31 — so hurry! There are already 237 entries . . . don’t get left out!

debra dockter


View original post

Announcing . . . the cover for Deadly Design!!!

Have to share!

Today is the cover reveal for Debra Dockter’s YA thriller Deadly Design, and here it is, on the Bittersweet Enchantment blog:

Plus, there are ARC giveaways! So head on over — it’s an amazing cover, and an even more amazing book (I should know; I’ve read it already!).

As always, you can follow Deb on Twitter:  @DebraDockterYA, or on her blog at

Yes, once I get published, I expect the same shameless publicity from her, too. 🙂

Stay, Summer, Stay

This is a really stranleavesge start to the school year.

For one thing, it’s the first time ever that all of my schools have been using the same learning management system — LMS — for their online components. That’s led to some confusion for the students, and a sense of unreality for me.  For another thing . . . I simply wasn’t ready to give up my summer. Not yet. I want to fight for it. Grab on to every last molecule of every last sunbeam, dig in my heels, and refuse to let go until the first frost arrives.

At 38, I’m finally realizing that the summer is not as long as it should be.

I always teach in the summer. Most college instructors do; as an adjunct, I can’t afford not to. This summer, though, my course load was a little less hectic, a little lighter. I had more time. More time to go running in the mornings, and stop along the way to take photos of all the fuzzy-wuzzies and creepy-crawlies that came across my path. More time to write. To start thinking about the next novel, pulling out scenes to keep and let my subconscious start mulling over the things that have to be created new. Time to research.

I rediscovered my love of rummage sales and thrift shops, and spent an inordinate amount of time digging through boxes and baskets, finding the treasures left behind by other foolish people. Most will end up in my online shop; others will stay with me. I’ve been learning about vintage jewelry, learning once again to trust my instincts and pick the good from the bad — and sometimes, when I’m really lucky, the extraordinary from the ordinary.

swingAnd I spent a lot of time on my first real porch swing, which I dragged into the shade and painted a beautiful shade of not-quite-white — it’s called Swiss Coffee — reading and talking to my friends on the cell phone. Every now and then they’d pause and say, “Where are you? I hear creaking. Are you on the swing?” And I would say yes, I was, and I needed to get some WD-40 for those chains and we’d both laugh because we both knew I’d never do it, because there’s something so comforting and calming and unobtrusive about those creaking chains.

No. I am not ready to let go of summer yet. I am not ready to relinquish the deep green carpet of grass for a deeper slush of snow. I am not yet ready to see the leaves turn yellow and gold and red. Though they will be gorgeous to photograph, they will also be sad.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that I have never known an August that didn’t mean the start of the school year, for me personally. My mom drove a school bus, so even before I went to school myself, I had that rhythm in my life. I went to preschool and kindergarten, and then first grade slammed me upside the head. I went to college, and for most of my adult life I’ve worked for a college in one capacity or another. What would it be like, I wonder, to live a life where August didn’t automatically mean school? Maybe one where August meant . . . preparing to take a trip to the lake? Or England? Maybe August wouldn’t mean the end of summer then, but something else . . . something gradual and good.

I set up for a photo show a few weeks ago at a local library, and I was telling the librarian about everything I do — teaching, the online shop, etc. — and she gave me one of those funny looks and said, “It must be nice to be able to live life on your terms like that.” That struck me as an odd thing to say because the truth is, I don’t feel like I live life on my terms. Is that how others see it, though? I feel like I live my life based on the vagaries of others. Will students enroll? Will the colleges give me classes? Will they give me enough classes? Will people buy the items in my shop? Will they like my photos?

But maybe I do. Live life on my terms, I mean. I haven’t come to a conclusion about that yet. I certainly lived this summer on my terms. Remembered things I’d forgotten I loved.

Like summer.

To the woman who called me today . . . from # (888) 978-7818

I promise, after this week, I will be back to regularly scheduled programming. But just now, I have a PSA to post about a particular scammer that I tangled with today.

They called my cell phone seeking someone who is related to me. The first time, they left a voice mail; the second, I answered but they hung up immediately (in fact, my phone registered it as a missed call); the third time, another voice mail. Both voice mails stated they were from “Linda Garcia” and that this relative had a bounced check and it was going to court (they knew what city he lives in), and that he needed to call them about his rights before it went to court. The second one gave his address (I don’t know that it really IS his address, to be honest) and said the subpoena would be sent out unless he called them by 3pm.

When I called them back, someone answered and I asked to speak to Linda Garcia. The person who answered immediately asked what it was about. I said this was about a phone number that was not related to one of her cases and — that was as far as I got. He assured me the number would be deleted from the file. I asked for the company name; he said he couldn’t give me that information. I asked again to speak to Linda Garcia. He kept repeating, over my voice, that my number would be removed. Didn’t even ask for the “case number!”

I called back 3 times. The first and second time, he hung up. The third time, he didn’t even answer, just transferred me.

The woman who answered was EXTREMELY RUDE.To the point of being ludicrous. When I asked repeatedly for the name of the company, she repeatedly refused to give it to me. She would not give me her name. She would not transfer me to Linda Garcia. She would not say if she was Linda Garcia or not. I wouldn’t either, if I was a piece of slime like that, but hey. You gotta try.

Finally, I’d had enough and said, “Look. If this shows up on my credit report in any way, I WILL find out who you are and I WILL sue you,” and hung up. SHE CALLED ME RIGHT BACK. The first words out of her mouth were, “You do NOT threaten me and then hang up on me!” Real professionals, these guys. Then, “How dare you call me and harass me and my people at our place of business?” Really? How dare YOU, madam, to call and harass me on my personal cell phone? How dare YOU scam people out of money that they actually earned? How dare you bilk people out of money that they earned with a — gasp! — REAL JOB?

She accused me of lying and threatening them; she would NOT give me the name of the company — finally after many, many demands, she said, “It’s BHA. B as in Boy, H as in Hill, and A as in attitude, which you are giving me right now and I don’t appreciate it!”

By the way, Madam Rude, here’s the definition of “facetious,” since you clearly don’t know it: “treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humor; flippant.” If you can explain to me just how I was being flippant today, please, I invite you to do so here and now, on this blog. I was being many things, but trust me, “flippant” wasn’t even in the Top Ten. I was angry. Belligerent. Verbose. Frustrated bordering on furious. But not facetious, thank you.

How do these people sleep at night? Seriously. I invite – no, I dare – anyone in the scamming industry to come here, to this blog, and post a response to this question. How do you sleep at night? How can you live with yourself, look your kids in the eye, go to work every day, with a clear conscience? Do you simply have no soul? Has it been burned out of you? Is that part of your initiation process into the world of scamming, something that happens when you go through job training? Do you go to church every week and lie to those around you?

How do you sleep at night? Seriously. How can you sleep at night knowing that the only way in which you make money is to scam people who go out, get an education, find a job, and EARN theirs? How can you sleep at night, knowing that the money in your bank account is illegally gained? Let’s call it what it is: it’s stolen. Bilked. Scammed. From people who earned it.

How do you sleep at night? On sheets purchased with illegal money? In a house purchased with illegal money? Do you buy your kids’ school clothes with that same money? Your car? Your morning coffee?

I hope this has helped at least one person know that this number is nothing more than a scam, and I REALLY hope that this helps bring these people down. And I will be interested to see if anyone does take me up on my dare.

Frozen in Place

This is “down time” for instructors — the two weeks between figuring final grades for spring, and the first day of summer classes. It’s also Memorial Day weekend, and I know we’re all supposed to go to the lake and have cookouts and hang out with the family, blah blah blah.

I despise “down time.”

I really do. When it comes to doing nothing, I suck. It’s impossible for me to not do something. I don’t even like sleeping.

Take this week, for example. Since last Monday, I have:  edited an entire book for a friend (due today; 260 pages), rewritten about 50 pages of my own book, signed up for online training that starts in two days (and lasts two weeks), started on the young adult fiction class I start teaching next Monday, worked in my garden, rescued my cat from the neighbor dog (she’s fine, but the dog will die if it comes back), went through intruder-response training (totally rocked it!), read a novel (Sixth Grave From The Edge — you’ve GOT to read Darynda Jones!), and started researching my young adult novel again.

This coming week isn’t any less busy. But it’s just impossible for me to not do something. I can’t sit still, and even when I’m doing one thing, I’m thinking about two or three other things. Like when I go for my walks. I’m taking photos, ruminating about plots and characters, and planning out my day. In the car, I’m listening to NPR and making notes about stories I want to post for my students. I don’t know if all of that is normal or not. Everyone looks at me like I’m crazy, and maybe I am. My family can’t stand it — “why can’t you just relax?” But they don’t understand that what they consider “relaxing,” I consider a waste of time.

My best friend is constantly on me to slow down, enjoy the day, look around. “Simple pleasures,” he always says. Maybe when I get older, I’ll understand that. But for now, I have too much to get done! It’s so hard for me to slow down. Maybe that’s why I like sports cars so much. 🙂 I just can’t see how people can muddle through life by going to work, coming home, plopping down in front of the TV, and going to bed. How is that a life? Get out! Do something! Anything! Get a freaking hobby! Go for a walk! Anything!

Just don’t waste your life. That, at its heart, is the theme of the book I just edited this week. The main character, Kyle, does waste his life playing video games — until things happen that change his entire outlook on life. By the end of the book, having seen the death of his brother and other good friends, his character arc comes full circle, to getting out and living life, and growing up. Does it take death to make us see that? Why can’t we just get out and do something without the morbid wake-up call? Why do so many people spend their lives frozen in place, unable or unwilling to move?

I don’t know. I just know that for me, slowing down isn’t ever going to happen.

Writing Conferences: A Little Rant (and some suggestions)

I just attended a writing conference earlier this month. I’ve been attending it for four years now, and I don’t know if anyone else has similar thoughts about conferences, but these are just a few rants I have to make:

1.) If you’re going to have sessions like a “first page panel” or a “query letter review panel,” make sure ALL your attendees know to submit them, or at least bring them, in advance! Put a link in the schedule telling people what they need to do to submit. This year, I went to a query letter review and only 2 people knew to bring them. TWO! It took all of five minutes to go over them. The panelists were two editors from the same house, and so most of the other 55 minutes was taken up with talking about their imprints. It felt like I’d accidentally stumbled into a timeshare pitch.

2.) Offer something for everyone. I know that can be hard when you have a limited budget and only so many people willing to come in and do sessions, but . . . speaking for myself, I want workshops. I want something different. I want to be able to critique others’ work and have mine critiqued as well. I went with a friend who is just starting out in writing, and she mentioned the same thing — that most workshops didn’t seem geared towards beginners, while I complained that most weren’t geared towards more advanced writers.

3.) Don’t schedule your best sessions on top of each other! YOU know what sessions people will and won’t attend. YOU know that no one is going to attend the poetry session, but everyone wants to attend the “I Made $1 million in Self-Publishing” session. Great. Schedule THOSE two together! Attendees don’t want to pick and choose.

4.) Offer tracks. Advanced and beginner. Fiction/Poetry/Nonfiction. Sci-Fi and Fantasy/Romance/History. Whatever. Have a plan for the conference and the workshops you want to offer. Then go find the right people to lead them, who have a plan and can get the audience engaged and interested.

5) And if you lose a presenter — and it happens — then find someone who can fill the spot well! I went to a session last year where the presenter had gotten sick, and a sub had been found. The presentation given was nothing like it should have been. Not even the same topic. Very annoying and frustrating, and I know I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

6.) If you don’t know what kinds of sessions to offer — ask your attendees. Put it on your website and allow everyone to have a voice, not just the members of your own group that are putting it on. I’d love to have some real history writers give workshops on research and verifying facts and stuff, but no one offers that kind of thing locally. Offer different things. A couple of years ago I went to a conference where there was a “paranormal panel” with ghost hunters, a psychic, and two paranormal authors. Hands down the best session I’ve ever attended.

Anyway, those are my rants and suggestions. I can only imagine what kind of work and planning goes into a conference, but sometimes it feels like I’m going to the same one over and over. Spice it up. Make it work!

Fascinating and Frustrating: Historical Research

I’ve written before about this nonfiction historical project I’m currently researching in all of my spare time — which isn’t a lot — and how hard it can be to find resources.

A few weeks ago, I found and ordered one set of records from one of the court cases surrounding this topic. It is a long, convoluted, difficult thing to unravel – like yarn in a bucket of cockleburrs – and just when you think you know what it’s about and where it’s going, it totally surprises you and goes in a different direction entirely. At any rate, I received the records on DVD but because I was in the middle of writing and rewriting another book, I put the records away to deal with later.

Last Wednesday became “later.”

There’s something so magical and mysterious about historical research. You think you know all about this person. You’ve read their biographies. Read, maybe, some of their better-known writings. You know what others have said about them and what you think about them. And then . . . you come across something that changes your mind entirely. Take, for example, a biographical paper I wrote about David Rice Atchison. Today, no one knows him. But between 1840 – 1865, he was extremely popular as a Southern supporter and a Missouri senator, as well as one of the leaders of the “Border Ruffians.” He gave speeches in which he said it was okay to kill antislavery people! Not a great guy. Not even a particularly nice guy. But then I got his letters and diaries (the ones that exist, anyway) on microfilm and I was stunned by how different the private person was from the public persona. He was depressed when his daughter went away to college. When he served in the Civil War, he sent his personal servant/slave home to Missouri because he was afraid for his life. He was fiercely devoted to his entire extended family. This was not the firebrand that urged Missouri to attack Kansas and secede from the Union. This was someone else entirely, and because of that, he became so much more real to me.

Back on topic — so I’ve been researching this disappearance and all the resulting court cases. I’ve had to figure out exactly where the money went, and who was suing whom, and when, and how many times those suits were appealed so I can collect all the cases. So far, I’ve got exactly one! In part because the process is so difficult. In these records, for example, is one case that went through the Missouri Court of Appeals. I Googled to see which archives had it, and I think I’ve found it — but the name is different. Is it the same case? I have no idea. I have to go to Kansas City soon and see for myself before I plunk down nearly $100 on the copies.

However. On the website were two photographs that were part of the records.

They can’t be anyone but my guy. They just can’t. Seeing him there in that photograph for the first time — I’ve read descriptions of him, but no photos were ever published in the local papers — was stunning. He was real. He lived. This wasn’t something my local paper made up one day when all the reporters were bored. (Yes, I was starting to suspect that.)

Doing historical research is really like digging a well; you think water’s down there somewhere, but you’re not really sure. It could be ten feet over. Or a mile away. It might not exist at all. It might be in someone’s attic and they don’t even know it. It could be in a library or historical society somewhere, buried in the basements. I’m sure somewhere, someone is looking for the journals of George Manby, an Englishman who worked on a system of rescuing shipwreck victims in the early 1800s. Those are at Wichita State University, if you are. I’ve seen them. I’ve worked with them. They are cool. But why are they there? Why aren’t they in England? That’s the problem. This stuff gets sold at auction, passed down in families without any context, stuffed in attics and garages and forgotten. Meanwhile, there’s a historian out there dying — dying! — to get his or her hands on those resources. And they might never find it. Mice eat things. Things get thrown away, destroyed in fires and floods.

In my urban fantasy series, my main character is a historian — well, she’s a history student — and she is finding all this out firsthand. It’s difficult because in fiction, there should be loose ends tied up in bows and lost documents miraculously found, and I can’t bring myself to pull those kinds of stunts because I know what the reality is. The reality is, it’s a lot of bloody hard work. And it doesn’t always pay off. It is fascinating. But it is frustrating.

Next week, I want to look at this some more, so stay tuned!