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Catching up on cleaning out my emails recently, and something happened that I often hope for but rarely experience: finding something outstanding buried among the detritus of newsletters and sales pitches I really need to unsub from. It was a link to a TED Talk by Adam Grant in which he discussed, among many other fabulous things, the science behind adding just the right touch of procrastination to the creative process.

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about the TED Talk for you because I really encourage you to take about 16 minutes and watch the whole thing. But to the point of procrastinating: Grant quotes Aaron Sorkin, the successful creative mind behind many hits including two of my favorites, The West Wing and Moneyball:

Grant, who is an organizational psychologist, shared some statistics indicating that people who procrastinate just the right amount (just a little bit), at just the right time (after the project has begun, not before), often have better results with their end product than people who don't. Because SCIENCE.

Now that we have permission from the creativity experts to goof off (like we weren't gonna goof off today anyway *snort*), I can feel A-OK about my procrastination activity of choice: cleaning AKA ProcrastiCleaning. I know some of you are out there shaking your head, wondering why in the name of all that is holy, if I now have permission to goof off, I'm wasting precious goof-off time on such a mundane activity.

I wish I had an answer. I don't even LIKE to clean. I mean, I'm not a hoarder or anything, but at my house on any given day, one might find a layer of dust or a carpet that needs vacuuming if one were to look especially carefully. I'll clean, but I don't especially enjoy the experience. Unless there's writing to be done. The closer the deadline, the better I like it. Then I'll clean like a banshee. And I don't mean dusting and vacuuming. We're talking major cleaning jobs, like detailing the car. Or taking a toothbrush to the knots in the heart pine flooring to get every bit of Sheetrock dust from a recent project out of there. Or possibly disassemble-the-plumbing-under-the-bathroom-double-vanity-to-scrape-out-the-mysterious-crud-inside-the pipes-under-my-husband's-sink (but not mine!) cleaning. Not that I would ever do that. In any case, ProcrastiCleaning is not for the faint of heart (or knee, or back).

Apparently, I'm not alone. I can tell by the number of 'Amen, sistah!' responses on social media any time the subject comes up. And those are just from the ProcrastiCleaners who are loud and proud and out of the cleaning closet. For each of them, I'm sure there are twenty more writers out there, still pretending they are actually straight-up cleaning rather than avoiding a deadline. Never mind they just spent forty minutes learning how to use the attachments on the vacuum so they can Hoover the funnel cloud of dust bunnies out from under the guest room dresser. BTW Rookie Mistake: dead giveaway that you're ProcrastiCleaning if you're considering learning how to use the attachments on the vacuum.

I know cleaning to avoid writing is weird (if not bordering on counter-productive). I can't help it. But I'm not about to give it up. I have my best ideas while doing mindless non-writing-related tasks. And they're not limited to cleaning. Once I almost punctured my trachea in my haste to write down a plot twist idea I got while brushing my teeth.

This month I'm trying to salvage the brain dump also known as last November's NaNoWriMo upchuck. Now that the plumbing project is done, I need to go fire up the hub's power washer. Thank goodness for pollen season, or I'd have no prayer of meeting my deadline.


This post originally appeared as part of the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.

Mother Nature dropped a bitterly cold nastygram on our doorsteps this week. While I abhor cold weather in all its guises, I admit I am crushing on the meteorological moniker sometimes bestowed upon these events: 'polar vortex'.

A NASA image of a past polar vortex. Image source here.

Polar Vortex.

Polar. VORtex.

I find myself swishing it around in my mind as well as my mouth, enjoying the feel of it as that V and that X come tantalizingly close to colliding, were it not for the abrupt intervention of R and T. I really don't care what it means (although I did Google - NERD). It's one of those great phrases I will be tossing around for as long as I can get away with it. Somebody please name a car and a lipstick and a Ben & Jerry's flavor after this thing ASAP. Marketing gold, I'm tellin' ya.

Which of course got me thinking about other phrases I enjoy saying, hearing, thinking, regardless of what they mean. In my favorites, the words just sound great together. Much like a fine wine, the individual components intertwine in a way that guarantees satisfaction. It's all about the perfect pairing of consonants with syllable count. Too many vowels, and you come off wheezy and ineffective. Too many syllables, and it's clunky and unpronounceable. And don't forget about a touch of emphasis at the proper time. In the above example, it must be the VOR; not the PO, not the LAR and certainly not the TEX.

Here are a few more of my favorites. Check out those consonants!

Battlestar Galactica - it's all about the 'ac', a little about the added 'a'. Battlestar Galactic would be fairly cool, but that extra 'a' is the cherry on top.

Big Bang - short and sweet, yet explains a complex astronomical phenomenon even a four-year-old can understand. And you can't ignore the sexual overtones here. Apologies to all the four-year-olds.

Event Horizon - maybe due to the perfectly wretched eponymous movie, but a shiver runs down my spine whenever I hear this phrase. It says Ruh Roh! in the classiest possible way.

Superconducting Super Collider - all those S's slamming around, describing something so smashing, one 'super' doesn't do the job!

Boom Stick - Originally intended for baseball bats, but I hijacked it for my tennis racquet. At my age this is a bit of a stretch to describe my game, but it amuses me, so it stays.

Seeing a pattern here. The science community must have a heckuva marketing linguist stashed away somewhere!

There is some science behind my amateur analysis of what makes words 'sound' good together. Turns out most people prefer words with a good balance of vowels and consonants. Words containing letters that make more noise ('plosive' to you linguists out there) attract more attention - the backfiring cars of phonetics. And as in most things, sexism also rears its ugly head. Some letters are perceived as masculine; others feminine. There is some overlap between the noisy letters and the masculine letters, as anyone who has raised boys could have predicted.

The cold is already receding from  my part of the country. I won't miss it, but I will miss hearing and reading about the Polar Vortex throughout the day. I know I can count on the wordsmiths to come up with a few more delightful word pairings to get us through the winter. A pity we also have deal with the not-so-delightful weather they accompany.

 

This post originally appeared in January 2014.

cautionnanoFor many people, mention 'November' and their faces light up with thoughts of juicy turkey dinners, splurge desserts, warm toddies by the fireplace, football, family, falling leaves, and many other sensory delights.  But if you get a reaction more similar to PTSD, or having been tasered, that person is probably a writer.

November is known to many aspiring as well as established writers for its 50,000 word National Novel Writing Month challenge, or NaNoWriMo.  If 50,000 words sounds like a lot to you, but you're thinking it must be a snap for writers, think again. It's the writing equivalent of a marathon. It takes preparation and skill, and a lot of folks who start, don't finish.

I've done NaNo several times. I've completed, or 'won', as they say, more often than not. I have a hard time equating the dumpster fire manuscript I've created with 'winning'. I prefer the term 'survived'.

As with marathons, one wonders: if it's so unpleasant, why do it? For similar reasons, I suppose. I like a challenge. I do it to improve my skills. And even if my project is light years from being ready for publication, it's a great 50,000 word start.

Every year, I swear I will plan better before the start. I haven't done very well with that. Massive procrastinator, massive pantser. Funny how those things tend to go together! But I've taken a run at an outline this year. I will be drafting the third book in a trilogy, so I have a better idea of story, characters, and so forth, than I usually do. I'm actually looking forward to getting started.

Many participants claw their way to December 1, gasping for a break, and end up not writing anything else for months. Totally understandable. I guess since I've survived NaNo so many times, I've grown some writing scar tissue. I no longer feel the need to take a big break. Although it is outstanding to not compulsively check word counts every five minutes once December rolls around! I plan on spending December and January editing the three books. I want to have the first book self-published by my birthday, which is the end of February. That will be my gift to myself.  It's a little ambitious to get them edited that quickly. And I will also need some cover art. But that's the plan.

Anyone else out there crazy enough to try NaNo this year? My NaNo user name is DoFo. Look me up and add me as a Buddy, and I'll do the same. Misery loves company.