Bad Habits

PANICYep, that’s about right (credit Allie Bosh/Hyperbole and a Half)

So, in last week’s missive I talked about developing some really bad work habits last year, habits born of “hubris, aggressive indolence, a sad tendency toward procrastination, and my well honed ability to justify anything led me into all manner of poor work and bad decisions”. This is a situation that, I believe, most if not all freelancers fall into from time to time. The cry of, “I’ve got plenty of time before this is due!” has rung from many a home-office or co-working space, typically right before Facebook is opened for the eightieth time in two hours, or the newest DLC for Borderlands 2 is launched. So you upload some pictures of cats, like some pictures of somebody elses’ lunch, and kill a few Drifters, when suddenly it’s three days before your deadline and you’ve got maybe seventy words of a thirty-thousand word assignment written. And you have no idea what you’re writing about, because you’ve been busy with cat pictures and Drifters. And it’s not your only deadline. And you’ve got other, non-work responsibilities to take care of. And…and…and… And, well, it becomes a vicious cycle like in that picture up there. Now, there are some guys, like Scalzi and Chuck Wendig and Matt Forbeck who don’t suffer from this affliction, but I’m convinced that those dudes are robots or aliens or alien robots. I, however, am neither a robot nor an alien more’s the pity, and let me assure you children that I suffer from this affliction in spades.

There’s a psychological phenomenon that’s prevalent in motorcycling, piloting, and bicycling called Target Fixation that I’ve been using to describe to people lately why I’ve been so weird and insufferable the past couple of months. Target fixation, also known in some circles as being scope locked, means that you get so focused on a particular object, say an oncoming car or a target in a gun sight, that you lose track of any other threats or obstacles that may be around you. One version of Target Fixation that happens all the time with motorcyclists is riding into something you’re trying to avoid, because a large part of getting a bike to go where you want it is looking in the direction you want it to go. This means that if you’re too intent on avoiding a curb or road debris or, God forbid, an oncoming vehicle in a corner and you’re staring intently at it while approaching it, there’s a good chance that you’re going to ride straight into whatever you’re looking at and have your day seriously ruined.

Now, I can hear you all right now with your, “Jason, that’s fascinating and all, but how does this relate to your bullshit?” I’m glad you asked! See, I had a super, super slow summer. After I turned in my work on Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, I spent the next few weeks off. I tinkered with bikes, played a lot of gigs with the band, played with the kid, and generally enjoyed a break after a grueling six months of work. By the time GenCon rolled around, I hadn’t written a paid word in nearly five months and I was in full-blown panic mode. I was even going so far as to look into a gasp! ”real job” cooking professionally again (crazy-talk, I know). So, at GenCon I was feeling pretty deflated, but I had a good time and shmoozed and hung out with Important People and made myself seen and attended the Ennies and all kinds of stuff you’d expect a pro in the industry to do. All of this paid off once I got home and the jobs started coming again.

Since I was still in panic mode, I took all the jobs. All of them. I said yes to every assignment that came my way and the word count started to skyrocket. I’d become Target Fixated, where the target was “work” and all I could see was getting more of it. So, I got all this work and… my brain shut right the hell down. I’d look at that big pile of work and just slip away. I’d write a couple hundred words, feel needlessly and undeservedly proud of myself, then run off to clean the kitchen or can tomatoes or clean carpets or scoop out the catbox or something. That’s right, y’all. I was doing housework to get out of really real work. How messed up is that? Anyway, yeah. I sat on all these assignments and freaked out. I started to withdraw, started not doing things with friends, started missing rehearsal because, I’ve gotta get these assignments done. Of course, they weren’t getting done, as I was studiously avoiding them due to me freaking out.

Another aggravating factor was what I termed last week as hubris and aggressive indolence. See, I’ve got this ability to crank out an amazing volume of good, usable words in a short span of time. My working average is probably three or four thousand words a day, and my max is eleven-thousand words in one seventeen hour work day. I get into the groove and the words just keep on coming. You ever hear the story how I wrote a whole 50,000 word book in three weeks with no lead-up and no warning? Yeah, that happened and I did it. Then I got all cocky because I could just pound out the words at the last minute and it’d be all good. Yeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaah, about that. You guys know where this is going, right? Combined with external life stressors like dadding and husbanding and keeping the house from falling down around our ears (Old house is old, man. What can I say?) and the aforementioned panic compounded everything and Bad Things started happening.

I got behind. I missed deadlines. My work suffered. I got shy of my awesome editors. I…well… just look at that picture up there and imagine that’s me there in the middle instead of Allie. Now here we are. I’m still behind, work is still coming, and work/life stuff doesn’t stop just because I go off the deep end a little. Lucking, I’m slowly getting back on top of it. I only have one manuscript that I’m late on, and that I’m scrambling to get done at the last minute. That’s the last one, though. The last deadline I miss. Also, the last time I think I can tackle hundreds of thousands of words at once over the course of three months and still keep myself moderately not-crazy. Anyway, yeah. Gonna be a good year, more good, less bad, etc etc. Stay tuned.

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