Monday, March 06, 2006


Here I am, doing just that.

Perhaps to you it appears that I am on task. After all, I'm writing, which is a hard thing for writers to sit down and do. However, I'm supposed to be working on a box due to be delivered on Tuesday. I blew a big hole in an important piece yesterday, and I'm, frankly, terrified to screw up my last piece of that precious wood by making the same mistake. So... I find it easier to do positively anything than take that risk at this moment. In fact, just this morning I've shopped for groceries, cleaned the studio bathroom, tossed out some old files, reorganized my kitchen cabinet and slurped two cups of coffee. Slowly.

I slogged my way to a point where I could face a small part of my true task, and Googled to find a local supplier for a new dovetail bit to replace the one I annihilated yesterday. A procrastinator's dream, Google handed me off to the David Savage's website where I got lost fantasizing about studying with him for a year, and I was gently reminded to get working.

Sharpen three pencils, make one cup of coffee then start, anything but make a start. Once you've started keep it rolling. Now you remember my little girl, you're engaged in that fundamental creative process which is called play. Enjoy it. Have some fun. Get a smile on your face. You can't make joyous furniture if you're feeling miserable. Nobody wants to see your miserable furniture. If you have a particular problem just doodle your way round it. Let the brain run sideways. Make lots and lots and lots and lots of little drawings. It really doesn't matter if what you do is a load of rhubarb. In fact the more rhubarb that you can include at this stage the better, for within that rhubarb there might be something quite exciting. Don't be too critical, don't stop yourself, don't let the fear and the anxiety stop you. David Savage
So, I decided to capture this morsel, and then I'll get back to work. Really. And I'll tell you how, so maybe you can get back to work, too.

Procrastination is not a character flaw. It is a technique -- an avoidance technique employed underhandedly by the our dear brains to dance us gently past the graveyard of our denied emotions. Stop and feel. Ask yourself: "Am I angry? afraid? hurt? confused? sad?" Because, truly, procrastination is there to help you avoid exactly that question and you won't get back to work until you find your answer.

I'm actually most of those, today.

I'm angry. I defied common sense and used a chipped router bit, when I know better. I used a machine-cut joint when I wanted to use a hand-cut joint, because I thought the machine would increase the probability that I would stay on schedule. Wrong. I'm now angry that I am likely to blow the schedule AND sacrifice my original vision with no gain.

I'm afraid. I put myself at some potential physical risk. (The bit slipped, and destroyed my work. It could have destroyed me.) I think I know why that happened, but I'm not certain, and I'm a little afraid to try again. I'm not hurt, but I might have been, and my adrenaline flows freely.

I'm confused. I worked through the physics of the problem yesterday, and I'm 88% sure that I know what happened and why. But, now with the schedule likely blown, do I drive two hours to buy another bit? do I cut the joint by hand? do I wait until my (previously ordered) new bits arrive on Wednesday? How do I handle the problem?

I'm sad. I loved that piece of wood. I'm emotionally invested in my now endangered deadline. I wanted to play with the lid & the marquetry today. I wanted to be relaxed about working through the final stages. I don't want to call and say I'll be late. I don't want to make more mistakes by rushing.

See -- a lot is actually going on underneath what appears to be procrastination. And, until I can let go of the anger, responsibly address my fear, and "get a smile on my face" I won't be able to continue. The rest is problemsolving.

Therein, for me, lies the key to recovering my joy. I need to find some small part of the problem that I can solve. Small. Really, really, small. So small that it moves me in the direction of the task without touching directly on the pain. Clean up the saw dust I left on the floor. Find a new bit. Work out a time schedule. Practice a few handcut dovetails in some scraps of that wood. Sample finishes for the final piece. Typically, I will soon find myself sneaking up on the task I was avoiding, and tackling it.

When even these small measures fail, I give my brain some time to "run sideways". The small brain is working on something in the background, and an answer will pop out if I'm gentle. I feed it with information, then I do something off task, joyful, or mindless. I sharpen tools, go ice skating, practice writing with my left hand (try it!), photograph something, write, or take out my sketch book. Perhaps I'll doodle out a way to artistically salvage the work I've done & save my schedule. (Oh, is that what I'm working out?!)

And here I am, doing just that.

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