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COLUMNS: Coffee on the Deck: The Editor's Ramblings on the Writing Life | Crafting Fabulous Fiction, by Victoria Grossack

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Coffee on the Deck
by Moira Allen

February 2, 2012:
The Dither Factor

Oops, I blinked... What, exactly, happened to January? If this is the year when I'm hoping to slow down and recapture my time, this isn't exactly an auspicious start. On the other hand, that wasn't precisely my goal... My goal was to figure out where my time was going, and I have to admit that my Writer's Planner really is helping. I hope it's helping some of you as well. At last check, more than 1000 readers have downloaded the planner, and several have picked up the hardcopy from Lulu.com.

In my ongoing quest to manage my time more effectively, I became aware of another time-sucking vampire that I suspect affects other writers as well. It's what I call the "dither factor."

The "dither factor" kicks in when you are in the midst of a project that you've been working on for a long time -- and you're getting sick of it. Just about anything, including hand-washing the vinyl siding on your house in January, starts to look more appealing. There's another project that you're just itching to get started on, and you've promised yourself that you can take it on, just as soon as you get the first project finished. But you can't bear to face another day on Project A. But you know you shouldn't start a new project until the old one is finished. But...

Before you realize what is happening, you may find that you've spent days "dithering." You can't face Project A, but you're reluctant to start Project B, because that will delay the end of Project A still further. The result? Quite possibly, nothing of any substance is getting one on either project.

The dither factor has its roots, I believe, in the fact that it's easy to reach a point where any project looks better than the one you're working on. And that's how you can turn dithering to your advantage. If you find yourself in this situation, simply put Project A aside and go work on Project B!

It's not quite as simplistic as it sounds -- and it can help achieve two goals. First, it operates on the principle that getting something done is better than getting nothing done, even if it's "something else." This beats wasting time and energy just trying to decide what to work on. Make sure you always have a "Project B" in the wings, and you'll always be able to devote your time to something constructive, rather than beating yourself up for not doing whatever it is you think you "should" be doing.

The second goal is a bit less obvious, but adheres to the fundamental principle: Any project tends to look better than the one you're working on. Spend a few days working on Project B -- and suddenly, Project A doesn't look so bad anymore! In fact, it may look a lot less tedious than what you're working on now... If nothing else, you'll be able to come back to your primary project feeling a bit refreshed for the "vacation."

I'm not advocating putting off important projects indefinitely, taking on one thing after another just to stave off a task that has become unappealing. Quite the opposite. Instead of letting the "dither factor" interrupt your workflow, use it to your advantage. Always make sure you have two or three projects lined up -- and switch between them when you just can't face another day doing whatever it is you're doing. Then, when you've had sufficient respite, switch back.

It's the "switching back" that's key. This method won't work if you simply jump from one project to the next, without returning to wrap up any of them. The "dither factor" can work to your advantage when you take projects on in rotation -- and you may find that you come back to each project with more energy and creativity than you'd have been able to muster if you just kept "plugging on."

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Copyright © 2012 Moira Allen

This article may be reprinted provided that the author's byline, bio, and copyright notice are retained in their entirety. For complete details on reprinting articles by Moira Allen, please click HERE.


Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts Mostly-Victorian.com, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.

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