Writers: are you making bad decisions (like me)?

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Most people don’t deliberately do things wrong. But if you really thought about it, what would you try to do differently? 

I admit it. I borrowed this column idea (and headline) from someone else. Her name is Penelope Trunk. I read her blog weekly and I appreciate her brash style, even if I don’t like every single piece of her writing. Last week she posted a “confessional” about five things she’s doing wrong.

Turns out, I buy her argument that it does us all good to think about what we’re doing wrong. It’s pragmatic. Focusing. Inspirational (albeit in a weird sort of negative way). So, here’s my own summertime list of shame…

1. I’m reading too much

Last week I raced through Ruth Ozeki’s 400-page novel A Tale for the Time Being in three days. I got it from the quick read shelf at my local library, which meant that my time limit was one week. If I read 60 pages a day, I figured, I could avoid paying the usurious $1/per day fine. Little did I know that I could have borrowed it from a “quick-ER read” shelf because I finished it in less than half the allotted time.

In fact, I found the book so engaging I mostly stopped all activity for one day to race to the final page. Well, that may be diligent but it’s incredibly silly in a place like Vancouver — a city that marinates in rain most of the year. When it’s sunny, I ought to be outside, playing or at least walking.

2. I’m procrastinating on my bookkeeping

One of the things I should have been doing instead of reading was working on my accounts. My bookkeeper has already phoned and emailed me asking for my first and second quarter results and receipts. I’ve promised to get them to him by August 2. Little does he know they’re still sitting in a monstrous pile on my desk. (Am really hoping he doesn’t read this newsletter.) The only good thing about procrastinating on bookkeeping is that it’s far less painful than procrastinating on writing.

3. I’m not selling enough

Like most writers, I hate selling. It feels pushy and uncomfortable to me, even when I do the sorts of things that all the sales books and websites recommend: Ask lots of questions. Stay in touch. Solve problems. I have two businesses – my Publication Coach one, which mostly sells itself (yay!) and my Gray-Grant Communications one, which takes more work. It’s also a lot harder selling to corporations than it is to individuals. I know some people think of me as outgoing but that always puzzles me. In truth I’m an introvert who’d rather be home with a book than at a party.

4. I’m checking email way too often

Don’t you just hate trying to resist the magnetic lure of the little “you’ve got mail” icon  at the bottom of your computer screen? At least I’m shrewd enough to pick up my email manually. (If you want to do the same, check the preferences tab of your email client and select “manual”.) But whenever I’m bored, or desperately seeking a quick distraction, I hit Shift + Command + N and the email comes tumbling in. If I did this only once an hour during the working day, I’d still be doing it 2,080 times a year. But I can find myself checking it five times in 30 minutes. I don’t even want to calculate how many times a year that is.

5. I’m doing urgent instead of important work

I can spend endless hours talking about writing problems, polishing my own words and sorting out shopping cart hassles. Last week, for example, some subscribers to my Extreme Writing Makeover emailed to let me know they hadn’t received a lesson for two weeks. (Of course I have a backup plan in place. Copies of all the lessons are also stored in a secret spot on my website, accessible via a password.)

But I ended up spending three hours communicating by phone and email with the company that handles my lesson delivery. I actually LIKE doing this sort of stuff. And it’s crucial that my customers get top-notch service. But when you’re dealing with emergencies it’s awfully easy to slough the important big picture work to the side. For example, I want to try to organize a writing workshop in New York for 2014. No one will be upset if this doesn’t happen. Except me.

So how should I wrap this up? Let me do that by borrowing Penelope’s ending as well: Go make your own list of bad things you’re doing.

(As soon as I wrote this list, I cured myself of my email addiction by forcing myself to write down the time every time I check email. Self-observation is powerful!)

What bad decisions are YOU making right now? We can all learn from each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me by commenting below. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)

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