I Am Good At Not Doing Things

Posted by pladd on May 11, 2016

I’m doing it again. For, like, the bajillionth time. YES, THAT’S A REAL NUMBER.

Here’s how it goes. I’ll start doing something, and I’ll be having fun with it. So much fun! “You did it, Paul!” I think to myself. “You found the one thing that you will never be bored of ever, and you will do this forever and your life will be awesome until you are dead, at which point you will not care because existence is temporary and your ridiculously improbable consciousness isn’t even a single blip in the radar display of the universe. Gold star!”

I can’t remember the first time it happened to me—the first time I was consumed so thoroughly by an idea or a project that I would toil away for hours, losing track of time. You’ve probably felt the same way before. You know exactly what you want to do and how to do it, and you return to it day after day. It’s a glorious feeling.

While it lasts.

See, that’s what I never learned: that feeling is temporary, to a certain degree. And while I can’t remember the first time I felt the wonderful flow of knowing exactly what I wanted to do and how to do it, I can absolutely remember many times where I felt that feeling fade.

It happened in college, when I was writing and drawing a comic strip. I was having fun. I was learning a new skill. I had an outlet to make stupid jokes on a tri-weekly basis. It was great! Until…it wasn’t great. Why wasn’t it great anymore? Within a few days, I went from drawing three comics a week to drawing zero. I still have a half-finished strip sitting in a folder in my dresser.

It happened shortly after I got my first job after college. I had created the underlying framework for a video game I wanted to make. I had page after page of notes detailing the combat and progression systems; I started writing the story; I dove back into Java for the first time since high school. I figured out the input controls and was working on the classes that would structure the data to drive the game. And then…meh. The game wasn’t done, but I was.

It happened a year later. I made a board game over the course of a couple of months. I even play-tested it with my friends. Once.

It happened a year or so after that. I ran D&D campaigns for that same group of friends for a few months. I started writing out their escapades, chapter by chapter (which is where Field Trip to the Ancient Dwarven Prison Camp came from). After a few months, I just “didn’t have the time anymore,” which is a bullshit-speak for “I don’t feel like making this a priority.” No more D&D games. No more write-ups.

Eventually, I started to learn to draw, for reals this time. I had found a great tutorial and a great community. I followed it religiously. For a month.

Several months later, I started the same art tutorial again, and I made a blog to go along with it.

Are you seeing a pattern yet? Because I’m seeing a pattern, and it’s the most frustrating damn pattern I think I’ve ever seen in my life. Well, excluding the pattern of humanity ignoring long-term problems in favor of short-term solutions even at our own detriment, but that’s a topic for never because mother of god it is depressing as hell.

I’ll just spell the pattern out, in case you didn’t read the last few paragraphs.

Paul’s Nine-Step Plan for Doing Nothing With Your Life

  1. Decide to do a thing.
  2. Do the thing for a while. Be super gung-ho about it.
  3. Stop caring about doing the thing.
  4. Stop doing the thing because you don’t care anymore. Thing remains un-done.
  5. Forget about doing things for a while.
  6. See {things}( someone else has done.
  7. Look back at your life and at all of the things you didn’t do.
  8. Mentally punch yourself in the face over and over.
  9. Repeat steps 1 through 8.

If you haven’t yet realized, I’m currently trending towards step 4 with regards to this website and my drawing practice. And I’m pretty sure that the transition from step 3 to step 4 is a crucial damn juncture. See, I’ve read about people who did their thing: they wrote a book, or they started a successful blog, or they made a video game. And they absolutely were not in step 2’s state of bliss the entire time.

So how did they ever get the thing done? I think they take a different step 4 than I do:

Thing-Doer’s Six-Step Plan for Doing Things

  1. Decide to do a thing.
  2. Do the thing for a while. Be super gung-ho about it.
  3. Stop caring about doing the thing.
  4. Do the damn thing anyway. Jesus christ.
  5. Start caring about the thing again, because doing things helps to make you like doing things.
  6. Repeat steps 2 through 5 until the thing is done.

Almost universally, I’ve read that they went through at least one period where they could not give a single shit about the thing they had set out to do. They didn’t want to write that next blog post, or work on that next exercise, or figure out that sticky problem in their code. It’s dumb. It’s boring. There are so many other fun things to do.

But somehow they got through it. Maybe a significant other pushed them through. Maybe they were under contract with a publisher, and they’d be in big trouble if they didn’t get that draft written. Maybe they had made promises to friends or a community, and were afraid of breaking that promise. Maybe they had no job and were driven by terror: do the thing or starve.

Maybe they’re an inhuman thing-doing machine and they skipped steps 3-5 completely. But screw those people; they cheated.

The point is, I think it’s key to change the plan you’re using. I’ve been using my patented nine-step plan for basically my entire life, and I have a string of half-finished projects to show for it. I’ve even recognized it before now, but I’ve never had the force of will to get me through to the other side.

I don’t know if this time will be different. Maybe this will be the last post I ever do on this website, and I’ll stop drawing, and I’ll find something else to be excited about for a few months.

But I’d like to think I’m better than that. Or, at the very least, that I can be better.