Of Procrastination and Plateaus


About 10 years ago (maybe more)  I happened to pick out Martha Beck’s Expecting Adam from the local library’s bookshelf, which led me to search out more of her writing. An especially novel and compelling view she wrote about was on procrastination. My interpretation of what she was saying is that procrastination is the way that the wiser part of ourselves tries to protect us from making commitments to directions that are not right for us. After reading Beck, I’ve embraced procrastination like a friend who helps me keep my actions aligned to my goals and values. When I can exercise even a modicum of self-awareness I let my procrastination help me fine tune the direction of my energies so that I am able to resist leading myself astray.

I’ve been procrastinating about posting for the last few week because there is something, other that what I had planned, that I want to write about.

It’s about when I’m plateauing with my work,. Since writing about this feels uncomfortable to me,  I’ve been trying to dismiss the idea of writing this post. After weeks of not writing, it occurs to me that avoidance is not an option.

I want to write about what I’ve come to believe about plateaus, as this belief largely defines the way that I move through my days.

First, a  bit of context.

I am just now finishing up something that I thought would take about 3 hours. Instead it has, so far, taken me 3 full days of steady work. I really am just about done. But as the hours started piling up, as I was feeling like I was making absolutely no progress, I started to think about how often I am in the position of feeling like I am working without any results whatsoever. I make mistakes. I try out ideas that don’t go anywhere. I’m indecisive. I get tired.  My work area gets chaotic and I can’t find anything. ARgh.

Then I clean up my work area. Depending how long I’ve been at it or if I have a deadline, I may then take a break, or may keep working. Maybe I feel frustrated, maybe I’m getting impatient, but what I do NOT do is retreat. This is not procrastination. It’s something completely different. I know this territory well. I am on a plateau.

Here’s what I know about plateaus. It may look like I’m not making any progress. In fact everything that I do when I’m plateauing might be discarded. Actually, that’s what usually happens. But something else is going on. I know that if I just keep working, something wonderful is going to happen. And it does. Every time. Even though it seems like the plateau is lasting forever, it doesn’t last forever.

It seems like everything that I do, everything I try to learn, everything that I create, takes me so much longer than seems reasonable. I stay with things because this is the only way to get where I want to be.  Plateaus are the gatekeepers to my next levels, so I just keep plodding plodding plodding along. Happily, I love where I end up each time.

There. I’ve written this. Now I can get back to work.






Inspiration · Thoughts

Courting Inspiration

Book for Angie
Book for my daughter, finished the day after the class was over, in the big clean empty studio, all by myself.

How long have I been back from Penland? Nearly three weeks, and haven’t gotten around to writing a post. Odd, since I know exactly what I want to post about. Funny how being away for just 10 days creates such a backlog. Just now catching up, just now able to sit down and write.

Sitting in the Ashville North Carolina airport, waiting for our flights, a group of us who had been at Penland for a week were chatting.  A woman, Linda, talked about how full the week had been, and asked, how to keep this momentum going.

I had just one suggestion for her, but as I’ve been thinking about it, I wish I had said more. Instead, I am saying it now, here.

Seems to me that inspiration is a collaborative event, like two hands clapping. You and inspiration, making something together.

There are three suggestions I have to court inspiration.

One: make space for inspiration to land. This means clear your work area, your desk, your schedule. Creating space invites inspiration. Think of it as you would think of a cooking a meal. How do you feel about cooking when you enter a messy, crowded kitchen? Just doesn’t feel right. This doesn’t mean that your work area has to stay open and clear while you are working, after all, cooking messes up a kitchen, it can’t be helped. My suggestion to Linda was that she clear her work area the night before, so that the invitation to be inspired is open when the new day starts.

Two: show up. Don’t expect inspiration to stick around if you don’t show up. Making yourself available to work means not taking phone calls, not checking the news, not texting, not paying bills, not running errands, not preparing meals, and not going on-line. Author Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this quite eloquently in her book Big Magic. She sits at her desk, trying to write, and if the writing doesn’t come, she calls out something like, hey, I’m here, I’m doing MY part!! Yes, show up where you work. Begin. Without expectation, judgement or demands, begin. Whatever it takes, begin.

Showing up also means giving inspiration time. Writer, actor, and tall person John Cleese has spoken about this. He has said that he doesn’t settle on the first thing that appeals to him. He gives his ideas more time. Even though what comes first may seem fine, staying with the work longer reveals work that is even better. Cleese has talked about how the quality of his work comes more from the time he gives it, rather than the talent he has. Mind you, he’s not talking about having to give his ideas days and weeks to gel: he has worked with people who have come up with good work in an hour, but he gives it maybe 45 minutes more, and that makes all the difference.

Inspiration likes to be played with, listened to, poked, questioned, examined, flirted with, teased,indulged, responded to, paid attention to, smiled at, experimented with, released, written about, danced with, put on display, thought about, talked to, shared, enjoyed and played with some more. Seems to me that inspiration also likes to take walks. It likes when you have learned and developed skills. Inspiration does not like to be controlled.

Three:When it’s time to stop working, be thankful. Unconditionally, be thankful.

Thank you.