The Silent Sound of Deadlines Flying Past

Douglas Adams famously said that he loves deadlines and, in particular, the sound they make as theyTrue Blood fly by. I’m not normally one who hears that whooshing sound, studious and OCD deadline-meeter that I am.

But fatigue has gotten the better of me lately—it’s been an extremely big 18 months work-wise—and I’ve been swamped by the never-ending tsunami of deadlines. So, impelled by the complete inability to take any kind of holiday, but clearly driven to go to my happy place, I’ve these past few weeks done the only two mature, rational things possible: retreated to bed to read the entire series of Vampire Academy and then watched (in short succession its entirety) True Blood Season 4.

Ah, vampires: aiding procrastination since, well, for a very long time.

The weird thing about missing some deadlines is that they do something worse than make a sound—they actually, for the most part, don’t make any sound at all. In fact, once you miss one or two deadlines you actually start to marvel at how no one notices or chases you, how incredible it is that the world doesn’t end, and how an afternoon nap seems like the best idea you’ve ever had.

I’d like to say you feel less guilty too, but I haven’t yet tapped that rebel-without-a-cause nonchalance the deadline-missing rule-breakers exude. Instead I’ve been an anxious procrastinator, applying the attention detail I normally apply to completing work to re-reading the series I love but have no need to re-read and watching (and comparing notes on) Season 4 of the adaptation of the Sookie Stackhouse series I’ve read too.

Vampire AcademyProcrastination karma, though, has come in to play. I realised I’d loaned the first three Vampire Academy books to my sister, who lives in Melbourne, only when I went to fish them from my bookcase. I had to re-read the series starting from book four. And, contrary to my hyped-up expectations that this was the season Sookie and Eric went to town on each other (if you’ve read the books, you’ll recall when Eric loses his memory courtesy of the witches—‘nuff said), Season 4 of True Blood completely lost the plot and was a bit of a bore.

I realise each of those could be a blessing in disguise. Had I started Vampire Academy from book one, I would seriously be in some deadline and sleep-deprivation trouble. Were True Blood Season 4 outstanding, I would probably be inspired to go back and start re-reading those books too.

Instead, I fast forwarded through some of the lame bits (seriously, the Lafayette and Tara and Andy Bellefleur characters were small in the books and, in the case of one, even killed off—the TV series has tried to resurrect and enhance them and it really, really doesn’t work). I also reminded myself that avoiding the deadlines is, in the long run, only going to make them worse. Sigh. It’s back to catching up on/meeting deadlines for me…

NaNoWriMo Procrasti-tools

For those of you who are not masochists, you may not have heard of NaNoWriMo. It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and happens every November. Participants attempt to write 50,000 words over thirty days and thirty nights in an often vain attempt to make some headway on that novel many of us have stored in our brains and nowhere else. As an editor, I hear about these novels all the time. “Oh, I’ve got a great novel idea.” Many people do. But few people actually have the chops to sit down and write it. Hence NaNoWriMo: an opportunity to get a support network together to help motivate, cajole, plead, coerce and bribe you to write roughly 1700 words per day every day for thirty days.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the past few years and have never finished. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t useful. But I am an epic procrastinator, and NaNoWriMo does not reward procrastination. I can find ways to procrastinate that would blow the minds of lesser procrastinators. One of those ways, especially around NaNoWriMo time, is to investigate software that helps you write. As you can imagine, as someone hooked on gadgets, this always seems to be a worthwhile way of spending time and inevitably ends in seven hours of procuring software and no hours of writing. So to save those of you out there, like me, who like to software procrastinate: here are some software options to help you finish NaNoWriMo.

Scrivener was my writing software package of choice for many years, and if you’re on a Mac, is still one of the best choices out there (it’s coming to Windows early next year). It’s an absolutely fantastic program for starting a new writing project, as it keeps everything you might need for writing a novel in one place, from storyboarding and research to a full-screen distraction-free writing mode that keeps you in the zone when you need to be.

I discovered Write Or Die last year when I was a week from the end of NaNoWriMo and had written about five thousand words. Unlike Scrivener, Write or Die provides little in the way of procrastination options, but is great for forcing you to write. It is utterly diabolical. Available on the web and as a downloadable desktop program, Write or Die detects when you stop typing and then gives you a little leeway (which is customisable) before the screen starts flashing and then a loud beeping sound reminds you that you shouldn’t be staring at your screen, but typing goddammit! After this warning, the words you have already written will begin to delete, one word at a time, until you start typing again. Scared? You should be.

The Pomodoro Technique is less a piece of software than a productivity approach, but there are tons of software options out there to help you Pomodoro. The basic Pomodoro premise is that you set an egg timer for twenty-five minutes and work steadily without looking at any distractions for that amount of time. That’s one pomodoro. After twenty-five minutes you give yourself five minutes to stretch your legs, check your emails and tweet about #pomodoro. Then get back into it. As I said, there are a lot of software options out there, but a good web-based one is Tomatoi.st and one I use for my iPhone (or iPad) is PomodoroPro.

So there you have it, all the procrasti-tools you’ll need not to complete NaNoWriMo this year like me. Now, I best get back to the novel.

Prime Procrastination Tools

The Wolf Of Wall StreetIt’s a truth universally acknowledged that the less time to read, the more good books you find.

You know how it goes. Work is incredibly busy or uni exams are swiftly approaching and you are suddenly—or slightly more than usual—overcome with the overwhelming urge to retreat, curl up, and get lost within the pages of a good book. Then you see, buy, or someone loans you the book they’ve just finished, the book (or often series) you’ve been wanting to read forever. And. You. Can’t. Focus. On. Anything. Else.

Winter is, of course, the worst for this, with rugged-up reading in the corner with a cup of hot chocolate the modern Homo sapiens’ equivalent of hibernation. (Mind you, I can also convince myself that reading is the only option during the heat of summer, which is too oppressing for one to do anything but sit in front of the fan.)

The InfernoBut what is it about impending, immovable deadlines that convinces you that the most important, responsible, and productive thing you could possibly do is read?

And does the illicitness of the reading such a book heighten or hamper the enjoyment of it?

I’m currently furtively reading The Wolf of Wall Street, a book that’s not really even my style. It’s a rollicking read by Jordan Belfort, former Wall Street banker who made millions of dollars each day and whose actions are both galling and incredibly intriguing. Would I normally enjoy such a book that so openly and gallingly celebrates appalling behaviour? Perhaps not. Can I put it down? Goodness no.

The 19th WifeOnce I’ve finished with that, I have a mini mountain of books I must read before I die (or miss my deadlines—whichever comes first) teetering invitingly on my bedside table. Even worse (ok, let’s be honest—better), I just got confirmation from this very online bookstore that the books I ordered during the week, in the brief moment I peeled myself away from reading, have been shipped and are currently on their way.

I am not so quietly cursing the fact that the weekend is getting between me and further book arrivals, as Australia Post rudely doesn’t deliver on Saturdays or Sundays, but it does give me some time to polish off The Wolf of Wall Street and try to work out which new arrival to read first.

Stripping Bare The BodyFrom (I hope) Monday, I’ll have the choice of Mark Danner’s Stripping Bare the Body, a book that skewers the politics and brutalities of war, and David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife, a book about Ann Eliza Young, the first woman to leave the Mormon fold and who exposed the practice of polygamy to the rest the world.

Light reading, I know.

They’ll join the likes of Luz Arce’s The Inferno, a tale that explores the terror of existing in Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, and, somewhat ironically, John Naish’s Enough, a book that examines our constant need to consume and how what we really need to be aiming for is ‘enoughness’.

EnoughSo which book should I read first as I continue my deadline-avoiding procrastination?

And which books are your prime procrastination tools?