Yak Shaving 101 by Rosemary Lord

just-rosie-3Rosemary wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House! She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now,  English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.

* * *

 What, you might ask, is ‘Yak Shaving’?  Where do I start…?

I was writing a new chapter in my next book, when I needed some research information that I could not find online. (If only I wrote about the present day, I wouldn’t need all this specific research – I could make it up.)  A visit to my local library was needed. So… I got dressed and headed out. I knew my car had the little orange light flashing, so I would have to get gas first. But, lo and behold, the universe had another idea. I had a flat tire. So I called the AAA and waited. My spare was flat, too, so the AAA guy towed me to the local Tire place. Eventually, I was able to drive my car away, go get some gas and head to the library for my research. I found the book I needed and copied my notes. It was a reference book, so I could not take it out.  After which, I was hungry. I can’t think or write when I’m hungry. So on my way home, I had to stop by Trader Joe’s and buy some food, before heading home to cook, eat, then pick up where my writing left off –  many hours later.

This is known as ‘Yak Shaving’ – when you find yourself doing something as irrelevant as shaving a yak (don’t ask!), instead of the goal you set out to accomplish.

It’s a term invented by MIT student Carlin Vieri and made famous by blogger Seth Gordon, who told his own tale of, “the seemingly unrelated, endless series of small tasks that have to be completed before the next step in a project can move forward.” There!

Hey – maybe I can absolve myself from the  personal responsibility for not finishing my current book: I have the Yak Shaving Syndrome.

But writers are known for procrastinating. Sometimes we find it is essential to clean out our fridge, before we can write that next article – or re-pot those pesky plants in the garden, before we write the next pages. Essential stuff, eh?

But then, we could turn Yak Shaving to our own benefit. When you’re writing a novel – especially a mystery novel – you usually have a vague idea how it ends, and maybe an overall feel about the way you want your characters to interact. So perhaps, if you’re stuck, you can work backwards.  Think about what has to happen just before the end. How you resolve your different characters storylines at the finale. What has to happen just before that?  And what has to happen before that point in your plot – and so on. Yak Shaving in reverse.

I digress. Because one can easily get distracted by all the Yak Shaving things life throws at us. Finding the perfect printer, the best notepads on which to write your literary gems, sharpening your pencils to perfection, then choosing just the right font when you finally get to type it all up.  I get so busy and distracted by little things that I have to constantly remind myself, what is it I really want to accomplish or be doing?

Remember that old saying: ‘When you are up to your neck in alligators, it is easy to forget that your original mission was to drain the swamp.”


15 thoughts on “Yak Shaving 101 by Rosemary Lord”

  1. Yes!!!! Yak shaving! Perfect and it explains a lot, Rosemary. I wish there was a pill for this syndrome in particular (smile) Excellent post, just what I needed to hear this morning getting ready to head to special luncheon–hopefully motor-club won’t have to get involved…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it good to know we don’t suffer this alone!
      And what fun we had at lunch, Mad….always so inspiring.


    2. SO SORRY to have missed the luncheon! And with all our distant members present too!! Ah, well. Maybe next go around. Pet, you say. Hmm. I’m thinking of some African pets…..


  2. What a terrific post, Rosemary. I suspected that others shared my Yak Shaving Syndrome affliction, and you have confirmed it. Just now as I was typing this comment, the dog pawed at the door to come in, so I stopped to open the door, then I realized her feet were muddy, so after she begged to be let out again I had to wipe of the floor, and . . .


    1. Thanks, Bonnie. It’s always the little distractions, isn’t it? And we now have a name for it! A name that always makes me smile.


  3. I love the term Yak Shaving! And one of my most usual forms of Yak Shaving when I should be writing–besides obeying the dogs–is getting on the internet, checking email… and reading blog posts at my favorite sites like The Writers in Residence!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Isn’t it amazing the amount of time we lose in checking emails – and don’t even go to Face Book…. But you accomplish Herculean work in the number of books you write, Linda. I still don’t know how you write three series at a time. Very impressive!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, the yak shaving I’ve done, either deliberately or by circumstance, enough to fill a yak barn (?) Thank you for naming it. But looked at another way, it’s also a key building block for creating tension in our writing, by putting impediments in the way of our heroes. Think romantic comedies, which are constructed on yak shavings. Like all wild things, it can be disastrous when unchecked but useful when harnessed.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I love the analogy. It reminded me of a “Ren and Stimpy”, where they left shavings out for some holiday Yak. (Though I’m sure that’s not what you had in mind.” Staying focused is the biggest challenge, and it will amuse me to ask myself, “Jackie, are you shaving the yak?” It sounds less critical. 🙂


    1. Thanks, Jackie. It’s so easy to distract ourselves when writing, isn’t it? Talking to oneself is very helpful, too! I reprimand myself often…


  6. This not only made me laugh, but it reminded me that we all have our yak shaving moments. We just need to finish shaving that pesky yak and then get back to the other stuff… Oh yeah, and laugh a little, too. Great post, Rosie.


    1. Gayle, I think we will all look at yaks a little differently from now on!
      And you’re right: it’s so good to laugh a little, isn’t it.


  7. I’ve got so many Yaks lined up that need shaving….. Ah, well, best begin. But DEADLINES (lines of dead Yaks??) are what always keep me prodding to the finish. Without those, I’d be neck deep in Yak fur (hair?) (and with probably a lot of yak… er…manure… on my shoes.)
    I love your posts, Rosemary. They bring me out of whatever I’m doing, make me smile and inspire creative juices in me. They are definitely NOT shaving Yaks, but moments of sunshine on my face.


    1. Why, thank you Jackie. Yes, those pesky deadlines often force us to forego yak shaving. And, I believe it’s yak hair! – and this yak shaving saga all started with the need to refill a cushion with yak hair…… First, go find a yak!


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