From The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published [EGGYBP]:
A common mistake authors make is choosing a title that has a particular meaning to them but that no one else understands.
I mean to say. Lichtenbergianism. What could go wrong?
I will admit to having been told already that the title sucks and won’t survive an agent/editor/publisher. I will resist while I can, of course, because the whole core of the book is how the Lichtenbergians became more productive through the use of the Nine Precepts (although of course the Precepts are ex post facto developments).
The subtitle of the book, I would hope, makes the purpose of the book clear: Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy. My feeling is that the silliness of the main title becomes attractive when attached to the subtitle, i.e., the browser is distracted by the weird, incomprehensible title, then sees the subtitle and laughs, yeah, I need this book.
But I am not the expert, the authors of EGGYBP are, and they suggest a couple of strategies here. The first is to create a “title pool” of words that could go into your title:
procrastinate, procrastination, procrastinating
create, creative, creativity
put off, hold off, postpone, protract
don’t start, tomorrow…
finish, finished, finishing
Then somehow you’re supposed to find that perfect title out of all those terms. (They also suggest checking Google Adwords to see what will result in your book being found, but that involves creating an account which involves “budgets” and “payment” and all that stuff.) Here are ten:
Don’t Create, Procrastinate!
Never Finish Today (what you can put off tomorrow)
A [Poem]* Is Never Finished: *painting/song/novel/garden ( a riff on the Paul Valery quote)
Be Creative… Some Day
Be Creative… Tomorrow
Hold That Thought! : a guide to creative procrastination
Lord, Make Me Creative, But Not Yet (a riff on St. Augustine’s sly prayer about chastity)
Tomorrow Is Better: procrastination as a creative strategy
Back Burner Creativity, or Creativity on the Back Burner
Moseying to the Finish Line: creativity is not a race
Okay, there are a few in there that I could tolerate were an agent to hold a book contract to my head.
Another strategy from EGGYBP is to “get lots and lots of opinions.” I realize that anyone reading this blog has already had their brains infected by Lichtenbergianism, but try to forget that perfect title and give me your opinions in comments. Who knows? This could be that moment when Bugles Sang True finally became Gone With the Wind.
I am trying to sketch a visualization of William Blake’s Inn nearly every day, but what that means is that I’ve been staring at a collection of raw materials on my drafting table every day, and today I was forced—forced, I tell you—to create an Artist Trading Card [ATC].
Here’s the main idea, from a post I wrote several years ago. (tl;dr: 2-½ x 3-½ cards, decorated and labeled, then traded or given away.)
I doodled with some a couple of years ago:
These were labeled as Destructive Series; there were more, but I’ve given them away. The concept for these was to splash out some kind of Abortive Attempt onto the card, then “destroy” the image by blanking part of it out with glued-on paper. (The third one turned out so nicely that I didn’t destroy it.)
Today I started a series called Indeterminate Objects:
So, a great way to waste a half hour while avoiding work on Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy—or greatest way to waste a half hour while avoiding work on Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy?
When last we looked in on Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy, I was reading through The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published [EGGYBP] and working on all the advice contained therein. Chapter 2 deals with one’s online presence and how to capitalize on that.
Okay, I’ve read the chapter a couple of times and I have to admit I’m kind of stuck in a little mental eddy. I know what they’re talking about, of course, and I’ve seen all of the strategies and platforms in action, but where I’m stuck is figuring out how best to proceed.
There are a couple of stumbling blocks. The first is deciding on who I want to be in this endeavor. I already have this blog, and accounts with Twitter, Tumblr, Imgr, and Instagram, not that I use them (because I don’t have to.)
But I think it’s wise—and smart—to split Dale Lyles from Lichtenbergianism. I can post my liberal rants or muse on the aspects of ritual in the 3 Old Men or post my music and William Blake’s Inn sketches—but that’s muddying the waters when it comes to attracting a “permission base” to Lichtenbergianism. Anyone who heads to the intertubes looking for Lichtenbergianism ought to be able to be immersed in it.
That means a separate website/internet presence based completely on the book and any services/goods I might be offering. (What, you don’t want to buy a Lichtenbergian brand Waste Book? Or a Cras melior est hoodie?)
So there’s the first stumbling block. Do I want to go to the trouble of establishing lichtenbergianism.com and @TheLichtenbergian and all that before anyone shows any interest in the book, or do I need to do that in order to attract interest in the book? Ugh. Around and around I go.
The second stumbling block is the incredible amount of time/work it takes to establish that permission base of online followers. I’m going to be posting about the different strategies in Chapter 2, but a lot of them deal with joining one’s online community.
Who, exactly, is that? I work in a vacuum here in Newnan, and of course that’s my own fault for not looking for my “community” online, but which community is that? Writers? Painters? Gardeners? Efficiency experts? Creativity gurus? All of the above?
Thinking that I have to spend hours a day checking on these communities and establishing a presence there just gives me the fantods.
This is a really good book, folks. The author delves into many of the same areas as Lichtenbergianism and in many of the same ways. She addresses structured procrastination, the impostor syndrome, RITUAL, ABANDONMENT, even STEAL FROM THE BEST, and she does it in a fluid, witty, conversational style.
One major way Get It Done differs from Lichtenbergianism, though, is that Bennett gives many do-able exercises to help the procrastinator move into a productive state. It is not my intention to be so prescriptive or so helpful.
Bennett also aims to show people how to become at least semi-professional artists, and I am so far from being able to help in that department that I shan’t even try.
Where I think I differ most significantly is in aiming Lichtenbergianism at more than fine artists: people can use the Nine Precepts in more than the creative life.
I do like the sidebar features, which has always been a part of my concept as well. Probably that’s where all the personal testimonials from my fellow Lichtenbergians will go.
Summary: a very good book on procrastination for artists of all stripes.
As I work my way through the text of my putative book on the creative process, you might like to read the rest of the text so far here. Also, the rest of my meditations on the process here.
There are many ways to manage TASK AVOIDANCE.
xxx <— this is my place holder for “needs more cowbell,” in this case some examples of structured procrastination before I get to kanban. (You can leave your system in comments if you’d like me to include it!)
My favorite way of making sure that my TASK AVOIDANCE is productive (and not just laziness) is the Japanese system known as kanban.
Kanban was originally developed at Toyota as an inventory control system and has been adapted for use in other areas, such as software design. Jim Benson and Tonianne Demaria Barry have developed a “personal kanban,” and I highly recommend their website (personalkanban.com) and their accompanying book.
Kanban involves writing down your tasks and subtasks on cards or sticky notes, then subdividing them into workflow stages such as Ready, Doing, and Done. (Benson/Barry emphasize that the system is ultimately adaptable to your workflow, terminology, and needs.)
This first key concept is called “visualizing your workflow,” and the first time you do a kanban dump it’s scary: all those sticky notes with all those things to do! But take a deep breath and remember: you’re going to procrastinate on most of this. You’re just getting organized about it.
The second key concept is “limit your work-in-progress.” Decide on how many of the sticky notes you’re going to actually work on at a time. The usual number is three, certainly no more than five.
As you complete a task, move the sticky note over to the Done column.
That’s all there is to it. (Of course there’s more to it, but that’s it for the basics.)
As Benson/Barry describe the process, the rest of the value of kanban manifests itself through these two key concepts. You’ll begin to get an idea of the tasks you’re avoiding and why. You’ll begin to examine your work practices as you watch the flow of sticky notes. You’ll begin to adapt the system to your needs.
There are a lot of ways to implement a kanban. The easiest way is simply to take a white board and stick sticky notes on it. (The important thing to remember is that your kanban has to be where you can see it as you work.)
There are of course software versions, including free add-on apps for Google Drive.
For a while, I used my laptop, creating a desktop image and using Apple’s Notes app to create sticky notes there.
Let’s take a look at this for a moment and see how I modified the three-phase model for my own workflow.
Across the top are the three standard columns: To Do, Doing, and Done.
Across the bottom are the modifications I made to the kanban to fit my workflow: Holding, Daily, and Future.
Holding is where I’d put the tasks in the Doing column that I couldn’t work on until someone else did their thing, e.g., budget figures or travel plans or something they had to get done before I could finish the task.
In the Daily section, I put things like blogging that I did on a daily basis, stuff that it didn’t make sense to keep creating in To Do and then move across the screen every single day. Notice the small vertical line: the Daily section was like a mini-kanban loop inside the Doing column. I could move my blogging sticky from one side of the line to the other to check it off—then move it back.
The Future area was stuff I knew I needed or wanted to work on—just not right now.
Your mileage may vary. It should vary.
Note that kanban is not a to-do list. I still have my to-do’s on my phone: mow the lawn, do the laundry, prep the labyrinth. My kanban is for MAKING THE THING THAT IS NOT and keeping my TASK AVOIDANCE on track.
XXX… <— some kind of conclusion
(Each of the chapters on the Nine Precepts ends with a SO… summary.)
Task Avoidance- SO…
Use “structured procrastination” by alternating your projects—avoid working on one project by tinkering with another.
Kanban your projects—know what you’re putting off and why.
As I work my way through the text of my putative book on the creative process, you might like to read the rest of the text so far here. Also, the rest of my meditations on the process here.
The other secret to successful TASK AVOIDANCE is that gestation is a necessary part of the creative process in any model worth the study—and a smart artist uses TASK AVOIDANCE to let ideas fully form. For the Lichtenbergian, it is part of the joke—procrastination is a key to creativity—Cras melior est—but make no mistake: we know when we’re wasting time and when we’re allowing an idea to mature or a problem to percolate unseen.
It is a mistake to think that “creativity” is somehow limited to the actual actions involved in finishing a work. Planning—working out the kinks—developing a framework—sketching, doodling, warming up—daydreaming about possibilities —these are as responsible for the quality of the finished product as the actual acts of painting or sculpting or composing or writing are.
As Danish mathematician/poet/designer Piet Hein put it in one of his aphoristic poems he called grooks:
To many people artists seem
undisciplined and lawless.
Such laziness, with such great gifts
seems little short of crime.
One mystery is how they make
the things they make so flawless;
another, what they’re doing with
their energy and time.
It’s also true that simply walking away from a project will sometimes allow your subconscious to work in the background on a solution to whatever has been puzzling you. History is replete with examples of great thinkers whose biggest ideas came upon them when they weren’t directly thinking about the problem. So absolutely, put down that sonnet and go get in the hot tub. You can thank me for it later.
Another important benefit of TASK AVOIDANCE is slack. Slack is that extra bit of rope that allows you to make adjustments in whatever it is you’re doing with that rope—in Lichtenbergianism, slack is extra time, and it is critical to any adaptive system like creativity.
One of my favorite fables about the importance of slack concerns a secretary in a large firm who was a wonder: she could schedule meetings, make calls, make copies, organize—you name it, she could get it all done for you at the drop of a hat. Then the company hired an efficiency consultant who found that the secretary often had nothing to do, large stretches of time which were not productive. They advised the company to schedule her workload more tightly so that she could get more done.
To everyone’s astonishment, her usefulness to the company plummeted. She couldn’t get to all the things she was asked to do and was often behind. No one could understand it.
They had taken her slack. All that time she was observed doing nothing was actually her being available to take on any task that was asked of her. When her whole day was scheduled, she was no longer able to pivot from one task to another and get them all done.
In Lichtenbergianism, whenever you feel over-structured, rushed, or swamped, it’s time for a little TASK AVOIDANCE. Clear out some time for reading, or thinking about another project. Or, if worse comes to worse, clean your house. Ugh.
Just remember that filling every moment with work is not actually being efficient.
Procrastination is generally supposed to be a bad thing. “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today” is the sturdy, Puritanical maxim. Clean that house, compose that song, write that chapter, update that website—and do it now! After all, won’t you feel better when it’s done?
Well, yes, of course you’ll feel better when it’s done, but first you have to do it. Ugh.
To a Lichtenbergian, though, procrastination is a core principle. Avoiding that symphony, that second draft, that new series of photographs… That’s a lot more comfortable. Cras melior est. Tomorrow is better.
Avoid that task.
But why is TASK AVOIDANCE considered to be a critical Precept of Lichtenbergianism?
Part of the joke is that we think that the world be better served if artists of all stripes thought twice before releasing their works on an unsuspecting public. It’s a matter of quality control, really. It’s one thing to crank out the ABORTIVE ATTEMPTS; it’s quite another to assemble them and release them as your band’s CD. Or book of poetry. Or Southern gothic novel.
We call it the “Better as a T-Shirt Rule,” e.g., a Cafe Press t-shirt vs. the permanence of a snarky tattoo. Don’t commit to permanence when there’s still SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION to be done. You can always take a t-shirt off; you can always go back to an unpublished poem and take another look at it. Not so much with an hastily-considered tattoo, nor with a published collection of unrevised diary entries posing as poetry.
It is good when young people are in certain years attacked by the poetic infection, only one must, for Heaven’s sake, not neglect to inoculate them against it. GCL, L.69
Let’s face it: 90% of everything is pure dreck. Dreck is fine—see “The Bad Penny” in the previous chapter—because without people having the courage to put their dreck out there, we’d never get the 10% that’s actually worth something. God bless all the lesser but nevertheless competent composers that dotted the musical landscape of the Age of Enlightenment, as Professor Peter Schickele called them—without them, Mozart wouldn’t have had a market for his perfection.
But if we, as creators, can hold back our dreck until it’s worth at least as much as the bottom 90%, then let’s do that. Cras melior est!
I want to make it clear that I am not telling you not to write bad poetry. On the contrary: you should write bad poetry, the more the better. You should write execrable death metal music. You should make uninspired pottery. That’s the whole purpose of Lichtenbergianism.
But, I hear you ask, how do we get from “create a lot of bad dreck, but put off finishing or publishing it for the love of humankind” to “create successful dreck by putting off finishing or publishing it”?
Here is the secret to successful TASK AVOIDANCE: because you are an artist, you have more than one Task to Avoid, each one nagging for your attention. The trick is to play them off against each other, avoiding one by working on another.
This very book (at least at the time of writing this sentence) is being written to avoid the pain of writing music. Not only that, but in the process of writing every section of this book, every other section proved a suitable distraction. Stuck on the AUDIENCE chapter? Jot down that note in your head on GESTALT that has been doing its best to distract you.
The very first full year of the Lichtenbergian Society I failed to achieve a single goal, mainly because I got distracted and built a labyrinth in my back yard instead:
In fact, often the Lichtenbergians will find that although we didn’t achieve what we said we wanted to achieve in any given year, we have done something else of value while avoiding our actual goals.
This is what John Perry calls “structured procrastination” in his charming and perfect The Art of Procrastination. I would say that Dr. Perry had beaten me to the draw on the concept, but as I said in Chapter One, none of this is new— he himself quotes a 1930 Robert Benchley column as defining the concept even earlier: “Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.”
As Dr. Perry puts it, “The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing… The procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely, and important tasks… as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.”
In 2003, for example, I was given permission by poet Nancy Willard to set her Newbery Award winning A Visit to William Blake’s Inn to music. Since there was some interest in performing this piece as part of an international sister city thing, you would think that I would have gotten right down to it.
Instead, I spent 2004 writing a children’s opera for a competition in Germany—which needless to say I did not win.
The good news is that I went on to finish William Blake’s Inn with an increased confidence in my abilities to orchestrate, and the final result is still my proudest achievement.
 This is one of those “memes” you’ve heard tell about. I will be using lots of similar pop culture allusion. I may be old (spoiler alert: I’m old) but I try to stay aware of all internet traditions.
Before I start posting the next chapters of Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy, I have some pondering to do.
I’m fairly happy with the first two chapters, “Introduction to Lichtenbergianism” and “Framework,” but the chapters on the Nine Precepts are still not making me completely happy. I know, one’s writing never makes one completely happy, but I’m not sure I’m saying what I want to say the way I want to say it.
For example, I think I need more anecdotes from my fellow Lichtenbergians about how the Precept has functioned in their work. At this point, a book supposedly about a group of creative men is merely about me and I think that creates an uncomfortable disjuncture between the reader and the text. Certainly, it was the participation and sharing of the assembled Lichtenbergians at the GHP seminar that made the topic so fascinating and inspired me to think that it was worth a book.
In Chapter 3, “TASK AVOIDANCE,” I wonder if I get bogged down with procrastination management. There doesn’t seem to be a conclusion to the chapter yet. Have I made the point effectively? Is it funny enough?
So here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to brush up the chapter as best as I can and go ahead and post it in pieces. That’s what this experiment is all about, isn’t it? Sharing, beta-testing, audience engagement? (see SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION, Chapter 5; and AUDIENCE, Chapter 10.)
Any place I feel that there’s a gap in the texture, I will leave an XXX to indicate that someday I may write something to fill that gap.
In turn, you will comment helpfully to let me know what you think is missing. (see GESTALT, Chapter 9.)
Beyond the usual suspects of family, friends, and former students, I think that most people would buy Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy because the hankering to Make the Thing That Is Not is pretty strong in humans. As Ellen Dissanayake posits in Art & Intimacy and Homo Æstheticus, the creative spirit is evolutionary, i.e., not only is it genetic, it exists because it helped us survive and prevail. The creative spirit is universally human. And as I’ve already written, there is no shortage of books which will help you develop and improve your creative skills in every area of human endeavor.
Likewise, there is no shortage of books which will help you deal with your tendency to procrastinate. Why, just yesterday I was contacted by a writer who is writing his own meditation on the subject and who felt compelled to get in touch with the Chair of the Lichtenbergian Society in order to find out more about us—just as I was editing the chapter on TASK AVOIDANCE. Ironic, isn’t it, that I got to put off editing that chapter in order to chat with and befriend my newest competitor?
However, Lichtenbergianism won’t scold you like most of the books on procrastination will, nor will it offer you tons of prescriptive exercises to free your creativity, which you will not do and then feel bad about.
No, a reader who buys my book will be soothed to find out that we do not expect him or her to flog themselves into creative genius or even to eat their creative vegetables. Instead, we will offer him the soft, comfy chair of Lichtenbergianism, which gently teases him into greater productivity through the haphazard application of Nine (easy) Precepts.
Plus, it will have a cool cover. What’s not to like?
In today’s adventures in publishing, I was prepared to write an extended comic piece about dealing with Penguin UK in trying to contact Frances Hollingdale, representative of R. J. Hollingdale’s estate. I had emailed her at an address I had hoped was correct, but assiduity is the better part of something or other, and so I sent out feelers to the original publisher.
The first person who responded directed me to the actual permissions department, which responded with an automated email with a form attached, along with a stern warning not to bother without a publishing date. Since I knew that I was not asking Penguin UK for permission for anything but just trying to locate Frances, this was verkakte. I went back to the first human respondent, who then directed me to Penguin USA, which I knew was wrong since they were in no way involved in the publication of The Waste Books. (I will note that everyone has been very kind and trying to be very helpful in all of this.) Mercy.
Anyway, it is a moot email chain,—and no comedy for you—since yesterday evening I heard from Frances Hollingdale herself, cheering me on in that polite British way and offering a very do-able fee for the 21 aphorisms I’d like to use. The deal also includes my sending her two copies of Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy, one for her and one for her brother. I think that’s sweet.
So that’s the major permission-getting done. Yes, I could have translated the things myself if need be, but why bother when R. J. Hollingdale has done such a nice job already?
But wait—there’s more!
I also heard yesterday from Hugo Piet Hein, who responded to my request for permission to use Piet Hein’s grook “Twin Mystery.” Again, very reasonable fee, and that was my second major permission accomplished.
Why, next thing you know, some agent will be emailing me and inquiring about the availability of this amazing new work.