Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Fine Art of Procrastination


It seems to be plaguing a few of us here at ATWOP at the moment. I know Claire has been busy trying to pin down where her time goes in an effort to shame herself into setting aside the distractions and getting down to the writing; last week, Jen blogged about being distracted from her current writing projects by ideas and inspirations for new WIPs. And at the moment, I’m also doing battle with a form of procrastination myself.

See, I’m usually not a huge procrastinator when it comes to writing. During a run-of-the-mill week, with no one home on holidays to interrupt or distract me, I tend to be able to make myself stick to a daily writing schedule without too much procrastination in the lead-up, or in the duration. But at the moment, my routine is out the window. All five of my household are home on summer holidays, and I’m trying to squeeze in writing time in between trips to the beach and cousin's pools, and lazy lunches and dinners with friends, and keeping the fridge stocked for the hordes of children that are constantly through the front door … writing time is hard to find right now. But when I do find it, I find that I’m procrastinating. BIG TIME.

My procrastination routine is probably not too dissimilar to yours.

The laundry and dishes and weeding begin to look attractive, the clutter in my study that I have put up with for a year suddenly has to be cleared away NOW. Then, when I finally plant my butt on the chair and switch on the computer, it’s the usual … the checking out of Facebook, my favourite internet hangouts, the blog reading …

All garden-variety, easy-to-spot, procrastination. And IMO, a little procrastination before facing down the writing does have its place, and can even be helpful; I find that surfing through Facebook and writing blogs for ten minutes or so tends to limber up my brain for the writing that is to come.

The deeper problem arises when you get really good at procrastinating. When you learn to disguise it as something you NEED to be doing with your writing, instead of doing the writing that needs to be done. It’s a highly developed form of procrastination – procrastination in disguise. And this is the form of procrastination I’m dealing with now.

See, this week, I’ve had a great idea for a way to re-order my opening chapters to make the story stronger, tighter, and I’m sure it’ll work a treat. I just have to re-write several thousand words to make it all work … but there’s something all too familiar about this. I’ve re-written those opening chapters more times than I can count, and I always seem to get the strongest urge to do so at the exact same point of my WIP – the middle.

It happened countless times when I was writing the shitty first draft (and is much of the reason why it took me so damn long to complete that SFD!) ... hit the middle, the sagging mattress, swiss-cheese plot of a middle, and bingo, off goes my brain, thinking up some wonderful way to improve the beginning.

I’ve just hit the middle with my revisions, and it’s still sagging and ridden with holes, and I just don’t want to face it. Frankly, it’s bloody hard work to wade into this section and figure out the revisions and fixes I need to make … so what do I find myself doing, in the few windows of writing time that I have? Yep. I’m going back and re-imagining those opening chapters.

Thankfully, after going round this merry-go-round more times than I care to remember, I can now see what I’m doing. I’m running away from the hard work, going back to the comfortable, familiar territory of my opening, to soothe my panicked mind. I know it for what it is – just another form of procrastination. Finely tuned, and disguised as necessary for the writing of my book, but really, it’s not. In fact, it’s anything but; because if I don’t stop this cycle, I know I’ll never roll up my sleeves and face down the hard work of getting through the middle. I’ll never get my second draft done.

This means that for now, I’m making notes of the changes I want to make to my opening … and as notes, they will stay, until I’m back for round three.

So, if you find yourself endlessly going over the same ground in your writing, and not moving ahead at a rate that you’re happy and comfortable with, I’d suggest stepping outside yourself and your processes and having a close look at your writing and how you go about it. If you see yourself repeating patterns over and over without making the progress you think you should, there’s a chance that some of what you’re doing is actually procrastination in disguise. And if so, just look the beast in the eyes, know it for what it is, and walk away.

Your book – and your sanity – will be the better for it.


  1. Oh man, Rachel. You NAILED it on the head. I've done this so many times, that when I recently mentioned that I would probably end up rewriting the opening chapters to FI, a friend piped in with... "You're never going to finish this book."

    Bwhahaha. So true. I've rewritten the opening 2-3 chapters so many times that had a dollar for each time... Well, I wouldn't be rich, but I could buy a book or something. Maybe a nice edition, even.

    Anyway -- I've put a moratorium on looking at the beginning of the book until I've made it through the dreck that is the middle. May be a while before I get to it. (g)


  2. Awesome post, Rach. It takes guts to admit to that deep level of advanced procrastination. I have excuses for excuses, I'm so bad. Procrastination is my absolute nemesis. That said, I never feel the need to fix the beginning. Nope. I just get this need to reread every word I've written. All under the guise of getting back into character, you see. Only, I'm just stalling. Because after I've read said words I don't start the new words; I'm too worn out. lol. Ah, the games we play... (g)

  3. Jen - "when I recently mentioned that I would probably end up rewriting the opening chapters to FI, a friend piped in with... "You're never going to finish this book."

    Aw, what are friends for, right? (g) Heh, I'm glad I'm not alone in my procrastination disguised as work. Just stay strong, and remember I'm right there with you, ignoring the nice, shiny, happy-place opening, and wading through the swamp-lands in the middle.

  4. Kristen - ah, a variation on the procrastination theme - "reading the sucker to death". LOL. I wonder how many varieties of procrastination in disguise we writers indulge in? I'd say the possibilities are endless ...

  5. I used to spend all my time editing, because the idea of trying to finish the story was way too daunting. I've got past that now, and just get stuff written until it's done. THEN I deal with the mess I've made ;)

  6. Hey Trisha.

    Oh yeah, I can see how editing could become a very effective form of procrastination, indeed. And it's so interesting, how we all try to avoid our fear of the unknown, or our fear of failure. Kudos to you for moving past the fear and no longer worring about leaving a mess in your wake. ;-) Everything is fixable, and progress - even a big old mess of progress - is far better than stalling.

  7. I think I have the opposite problem - I think I'm starting to use square brackets as crutches. This is too hard, slap on the bracket. I can't think of the right word, slap on the square bracket. I need to go do a blog post, write 'need end' and slap on the bracket.
    I should just delete all the brackets and read along without them. Wonder how it would sound?

  8. Deniz - ah, procrastination by square brackets. See, I knew us writers were a creative bunch! LOL