I have vague memories of first stumbling on the word ‘procrastination’ as an undergraduate, thinking it sounded like a very sophisticated way of labelling an unsophisticated activity. Many of my friends have found ways to at least bring healthiness to their lives via procrastination: they clean the house, they bake cookies, they knit jumpers, they go for a run. None of these things have ever appealed to me, even at my worst levels, because doing domestic or healthy chores will always be far lower in the food chain than the thesis. My weakness is, I think, far more dangerous because it does not have a clear ending: poetry.
I should probably elaborate: poetry projects.
There is a reason, other than passion (and it is there, obviously), why I often find myself juggling poetry projects. For the same reason why a baker-procrastinator may choose a workspace far removed from a kitchen, I deliberately tried to put a lid on projects during the writing up phase of my PhD. I even handed over the reins (temporarily) to Sabotage Reviews so that the distraction of copy-editing and promoting reviews wouldn’t be my excuse for wasting the day. Did that work? Not entirely, Penning Perfumes was thought up, organized, and launched as an anthology.
Why am I sharing this? I normally try to keep my two worlds, poetry and academia separate, but they do find a way to overlap, and this is a struggle I am facing currently. When I laid out my ambitious plan to revise one chapter a week, I completely neglected to take into account my poetry commitments. Currently I am juggling several projects including the creation (and funding application) of my one-woman show based on my poetry collection The Shipwrecked House, planning the launch of the next issue of Verse Kraken, planning the impending Saboteur Awards as well as the day to day admin of copy-editing and organizing reviews, juggling several writing commissions, planning writing courses, and a new exciting anthology of contemporary poetry inspired by history.
This isn’t a list of excuses, truly, it isn’t, but I am still working out ways in which to make both sides of my life compatible and productive. Things that I’ve realized during this teething phase of the revising process, and which may be useful to others, are that the following things work:
- waking up at dawn (5/6am) and going into a different room to work on the thesis. No one is online, the house is quiet, and a bonus is the wonderful feeling of having achieved something by 9am. The danger lies in allowing the smugness take over the rest of the day.
- jotting down thoughts immediately instead of acting on them. This has made a world of difference. Where before I’d suddenly remember ‘oh I forgot to reply to so-and-so’, go on emails, do it, then fall into the vacuum of the internet, this way I get to plough on reassured that I won’t forget. This also goes for enthusiastically thought-up poetry projects.
- setting aside days or chunks of days to get things out of the way. This may seem like a cop out, but if you get built up guilt like me, it works a treat.
Any other tips?
I’m definitely not saying I’ve worked out a way to balance things well yet, but over the last few days I finally feel like progress is made. At long last my mammoth chapter can be put to (sort of) rest, which was the main structural change I wanted to operate. The work is far from over, I feel like both the introduction and conclusion need some serious work done to them, while the other chapters also deserve some attention. It’s a milestone of sorts though.