Pearl S. Buck is one of those writers that I keep meaning to read and never quite get around to. My mother raves about East Wind: West Wind, and friends sing her praises but I regularly forget her while browsing Amazon. So, her name remains on my list of books and authors to investigate, which is a sorry state of affairs given that it is one of this great lady’s pearls of wisdom that I consistently invoke when I’m feeling unmotivated and just can’t be bothered. The words of the prolific writer, Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winner, and political activist that never fail to get me off the sofa are:
I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that.
Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.
Even as I write this, I have Pearl to thank – I didn’t much feel like writing today, but I heard her words ringing in my head as I put on the kettle this morning and so went to set up my laptop.
The thing is, I love writing. And I’m guessing Pearl did too. But it sounds like she, like me, often found herself not “in the mood” to sit and type. At least not at first – once I’m here and the old Earl Grey is kicking in, I am in “flow” and totally absorbed in what I’m doing; my mood changes. But I know that if I waited for my mood to change in order to start I would wait all day.
The same is true when I look at my to-do list. I don’t much feel like doing any of it: find a place to get watch repaired; complete tax declaration; organise my computer files. Hard to get excited about these tasks when the box set of season 2 of 24 beckons to me from the other side of the sitting room (yes, I know, I’m way behind but I’ve only recently discovered the joys of the show having resisted for years thinking oh-so-wrongly that I wouldn’t like it). But I know that if I wait to be in the mood to look for a good jeweller to fix my watch, I risk turning up late for every appointment I make for the foreseeable future. So, I think of Pearl and get on with the job in hand.
It’s a little like the famous “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Pearl’s nugget of wisdom is “feel no motivation whatsoever and do it anyway”. I like the way she doesn’t even suggest you try to motivate yourself or pretend to be inspired. It’s a gloriously down-to-earth and brutally honest way of accepting that sometimes we just can’t wait to feel ready before we have to get stuck in.
I have found ways to help myself, of course, as I work towards achieving Pearlesque productivity levels. I operate a rewards scheme: tick three things off the to-do list and you can have a cup of tea and one hour of the long-suffering Jack Bauer; or, return three phone calls and then you can have a piece of cake. I also break tasks down: this morning, I’ll pull out all the necessary documents for the tax declaration, this afternoon I’ll do the calculations, tomorrow morning, I’ll do the online return. It also helps to sweeten the deal: get onto the yoga mat for half an hour, but put the radio on while doing so; have an old episode of Sherlock on the TV while clearing out a cupboard.
Pearl’s discipline mixed with Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar is a force to be reckoned with.