The Art of Procrastination

This is how we look when writing. Honest.

Writing’s a tough gig. It is. I know, we spend our time in made-up worlds in our heads, telling our characters what to do (theoretically – in my experience, they normally do what they want), drinking caffeinated beverages and occasionally writing a few choice words in a beautifully bound journal. But, you know, when we’re not wafting about the place in flowing white clothing, we do Other Things.

Generally I find that I get a lot of Other Things done when I should be writing.

These can include but are by no means limited to:

1. Reading. It’s research, obviously. I mean, I don’t sit at the desk with my latest bedtime read (well, not all the time, anyway), but, you know. Books about writing, or books about mythology, or books about pretty much anything that’s remotely related to what I’m writing, even if at the most tangential angle. Failing that, wikipedia. Or various internet searches that have probably put me on a watch list. There’s so much to read online. So much.

Hair? What hair?

2. Cleaning. For a two-bed apartment, it’s amazing how much cleaning needs doing. I’ll be getting in the zone, you know, thinking about characters, untangling plot points, really writery stuff, then, BAM. Look at the dust on those shelves. I only cleaned two days ago. Or I’ll notice cobwebs on the ceiling (uninhabited ones, the others are allowed to stay). Sometimes it’s laundry. Sometimes it’s the tumbleweeds of cat hair that galvanise me (one cat. One. I think she’s borrowing hair from the neighbourhood strays). And then nothing will do but to clean whatever it is that’s caught my attention, followed by everything else in the general vicinity. Depending on the day, I’ll find myself two hours later, scrubbing tea stains off the cutlery.

3. Shopping. This is one of my least favourite activities ever, but a general disorganisation when it comes to household stuff, combined with a tendency to forget lists, means I’m lucky to last a day without having to go to the shop for something. Luckily there’s one just down the road, but I always choose the queue where someone’s paying for their weekly shop in 5 cent coins, and the person in front of me invariably forgets something halfway through checkout, and has to go find it. At the other end of the shop. So shopping can take up a disproportionate amount of my day.

Offerings to the muse. Honest.

4. Cooking. I love eating. I really do. But preparing things to eat is time that could be better spent writing (in theory). I can usually get around this for most of the day by eating fruit and nuts, but eventually it’s either make something or fall into a packet of chocolate biscuits. It can go either way. And, not to forget that the muse must be bribed with chocolate and woven moonbeams, so regular baking is also in order (I still haven’t worked out the moonbeams bit, so I just add more cake).

5. Everything. Layla-cat doing something cute. Needing a cuppa. Checking the post. Deciding I desperately need yet another reference book on obscure monsters (research!). Social media (obviously). Needing to find that one song whose name I can’t remember that was popular about ten years ago. Discovering I need to do laundry. Deciding to answer a two year old email. Everything.

In my defence, she does physically get in the way sometimes.

This is also known as procrastination, of course, and I used to spend a lot of time and headspace berating myself about it. I could have got that chapter finished, if I hadn’t checked a fact on a common garden plant on wikipedia and found myself two hours later reading about the breeding habits of the lesser spotted green-eared skink. I could have finished that blog post if I hadn’t noticed that there were fingerprints on the sliding door and therefore had to clean all the windows in the house. I could have finished that short story, if I hadn’t decided it was vital to clear out my winter clothes, right this minute.

It’s astonishing, considering how much I want to write, and how much I actually love it, how many things can distract me from it. But then, writers are meant to be endlessly inventive. I guess that’s why we’re endlessly inventive when it comes to procrastinating, as well. And I have no solution to this, other than the ever reliable “switch off your wifi” (but, phone).

Yeah. You can’t call that a process.

The only thing I can say, is that I’ve come to accept it as part of the “process” (quotation marks, because, really. I have no process). And sometimes it feels less like an avoidance, and more like a continuation. That in the time spent away from the computer, with my mind on one level occupied with how to reach all the hair ties the cat’s stashed under the washing machine, little things are settling into place. Problematic plot points, twists in scenes, recalcitrant characters – you sit back down, and suddenly the solution’s, if not clear, at least within reach. So maybe a little procrastination isn’t the terrible thing everyone says it is. Maybe a little procrastination is just another part of writing, albeit an, um, indirect part.

Plus sitting at your desk for hours straight will apparently kill you, so this is now my excuse for getting up and going to the biscuit bin every half hour or so. I’m actually making myself healthier.

How about you, writer people? Do you procrastinate? Do you accept it, or have you found ways to work around it? If so, please tell me, so I can pretend I’m at least trying to minimise it.

Gratuitous cuteness shot, so you can see what I have to put up with.

16 thoughts on “The Art of Procrastination

    1. I knew it was bad the other day – I stripped all the cushion covers off the sofa and washed them! I do find cleaning weirdly good thinking time, but only when I don’t have to do it. Weekly cleans are very overrated.

  1. I procrastinate a lot! I love writing, so it’s a bit embarrassing how much time I spend avoiding it. My favorite forms of procrastination are cleaning, exercising, and complaining to friends about my procrastination. I haven’t found a way to avoid procrastination, but I think we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves because good things come out of it too. If I didn’t procrastinate, the house would be messier, I would be out of shape, and I would have less of a social life. 😉

    1. I love those reasons! You’re right, procrastination can be useful in its own right, as well as as a means to an end (i.e. hopefully you come back to writing refreshed). I should really try to swap out baking cookies for more exercise. That seems like a good plan.

    1. But if it’s USEFUL procrastination… Although finding that balance is rather tricky. I question how useful organising my sock drawer is to writing, or life in general.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. I think I have the opposite problem. Just not enough time to write, and then my writing time gets interrupted by family and life etc! I would give anything for a whole day of non-stop writing! One day!! But i do know what you mean about having to do all these other things. I often stop writing and start reading, not because the writing is not flowing, but just because it’s hard to squeeze reading time in too, and I think it’s vital to read, for many reasons!

    1. Reading is SO important! I’m very protective of my bedtime reading, but even so I often find myself drifting off to twitter because I forgot to catch up there earlier in the evening. I also need to learn to snatch my reading and writing time – all those little moments which don’t seem long enough to do that much, but which all add up.

      Now can you send me some of your anti-procrastination superpower? 😉

  3. I never procrastinate. *Cue laughter*

    My biggest distractions are reading about writing (on blog posts or in books) and Twitter (it’s networking, honestly). I never procrastinate by cleaning, unfortunately.

    I do think sometimes the subconscious needs time to work through issues in the writing, but usually it’s just avoiding something hard for something easier.

    1. I’m starting to worry I have a cleaning obsession, as no one else seems to use cleaning as procrastination time! And I absolutely agree that often we use procrastination as an avoidance technique, but I think there can be value found in it, too. Or so I keep telling myself, because otherwise I really am wasting an awful lot of time…

  4. I am a bit of a procrastinator but it comes in waves. One day I can be really focussed and get loads of writing done. My mind’s whizzing along with all these great ideas as I put pen to paper, well fingers to keyboard! Then the next day I’m lucky if I get two sentences written before I see, or remember something I need to do, haven’t done or just want to do. I suppose the productive days make up for the ugh days though. So not too bad.

    1. I think that’s it – the balance of ugh days and yay days! I guess we all just need to have a little patience with ourselves, and not obsess over the days that don’t work so well.

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