Work That Matters vs Daydreaming & Busywork

violinist

For it is an embarrassing fact that my envy focuses not necessarily on writers whose work I admire, but on those whose performance of the writer’s life I find convincing. — Miranda Popkey

So even beginning (and finishing!) this short blog post was a mental fight. Click away from the New York Times article I was perusing? Stop looking for Paleo/Whole30/"healthy" recipes that I know I won't actually get around to making today? Halt my annoying habit of hitting "refresh" on my email even though I'm not even expecting anything? The struggle.

Seriously. When I'm not on a deadline for work, school, applications, or "someone who has authority over me," it's incredibly hard for me to commit quality time (or what some people call deep work) to my own projects. It's just so much easier to do the short, stupid, busy work—like answering emails, making lists, or organizing my calendar. Instead of cranking out a novel, script, or short story, I fool myself into thinking I'm still making progress by doing other things. Newsflash: I'm not.

Instead of taking small, but consistent steps towards the longer projects I dream of completing, I'm spinning on a hamster wheel of never-ending tasks that don't add up to my big goals.

What is easy for me though (along with staying "busy"), is to lust after a writer's life (or any life that I admire, really).

In Miranda Popkey's article, All the Time I’ve Wasted Watching the Better Versions of Me, she discloses her own deep-seated feelings of jealousy:

For it is an embarrassing fact that my envy focuses not necessarily on writers whose work I admire, but on those whose performance of the writer’s life I find convincing. This performance includes bylines, yes, but it also includes photographs of writing desks — four blooms in a clear vase atop a blond-wood table, light streaming through a window, photographs pinned, in artful disorder, to the wall — of perfectly manicured nails below an underlined sentence in a book. There are moments when the work, terrifyingly, seems to recede into the background; when what obsesses me is appearing, to the world, like a person who might create that work.

I fall into this trap almost every time I'm on Instagram or any other site that's heavily picture based. Rather than spending time writing, I start imagining my dream "writing location," (A-frame cabin in the woods overlooking a mountain lake, if you're wondering) where distractions somehow disappear, and words just flow out of my fingers all hours of the day. Then, after thoroughly convincing myself that my future masterpieces can only be created in this imaginary location, I spend the next four hours on Redfin, Craigslist, and Zillow, hunting down the perfect piece of property—that I obviously can't afford to buy.

Why? Why do I waste so much time in this fantasy world? Procrastination. Why? Fear.

Although I hate using that word for something like writing, fear is a part of almost any creative-attempting person's life. Fear that the finished thing will be awful. Fear of spending time on something that might not turn out perfectly. Fear that it all may be "a waste of time."

So, this post is to remind myself, and you that in order to actually create and finish a thing you have to fight that battle each and every day: Do the real work, not the busywork. Stop dreaming about "life as a [insert here]," and start focusing on actually finishing the next step for your project. Realize that imagining the perfect place to complete your work doesn't exist, or at the very least, doesn't help you at this moment. As for the fear? Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. When you stop thinking about the end result, you can focus on each little task to get you there.

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Other people who've said the same thing in much better words:

If you don’t finish your work then you’re just busy, not productive

and

The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

and

The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron