Wednesday, March 5, 2014

On procrastination...

But first, some house-keeping stuff... (sorry to procrastinate...)

I haven't blogged in a while--a long while--and I need to.

So, stuff going on:

Slush reading for the Big Bad II is well underway. John Hartness, my co-editor, and I are reading through some great stories, and I know our decisions will be tough!  That's always a good thing. We've got enough that our acceptance rate from the slush will be around 10% or less!

School is school is school, though I'm starting work on my 101 class next year, and I'm hoping to really put some time into learning more about teaching Composition.

I got married, too, in October 2013, and that was a lot of fun, and lovely, and all the things I wanted it to be. (And I'm pretty sure all the things my hubby wanted, too).

I'm in the middle of editing a YA novel that I'm really excited about, but with which I struggled a lot. I had to change some of the ways I wrote to get the story out of my head and on paper. It resulted in major edits being necessary, but hey, when aren't they?  And that leads to my blog post...

On procrastination...

I suppose I'll start with a disclaimer: as a rule, procrastination is NOT the best way to get things done. Waiting until the last minute, putting stuff off, spending hours on email or facebook, or mainlining all of Doctor Who on Netflix leaves you pretty much where you started: with nothing done.

When procrastination is keeping a writer from writing (or anyone from doing the things they want to do,) then it is bad. As a rule, it should be avoided, right?


I procrastinate. A lot. I've done it for as long as I can remember, but it really came into focus when I was working on my PhD. I procrastinated studying for my candidacy exams. The result was that I ended up finishing later than I could have.  I procrastinated on my dissertation, too.  But that's where I found something different. My procrastination actually helped in some ways. It became a part of my writing routine. I'd know I needed to start writing by X date, or I wouldn't hit a deadline. But I couldn't make myself start writing until I'd screwed around a lot. Sometimes hours, sometimes weeks or even a month.

And then I discovered something...

The waiting, the procrastinating, actually helped me.


Because I spent all the "not writing" time thinking. I'd mull over ideas for days or weeks. Think about stuff as I cleaned (yeah, for all you haters-of-cleaning out there, I even chose cleaning over writing my dissertation) or as I just stared at my email, or took a shower, or drove to and from my job or on errands.

By the time I sat down to write, I could write out a bunch of notes and ideas, and then dive in and write huge chunks of text in a fairly short span of time. For example, I took one draft of a chapter for my diss from 20 pages to 40 pages in a weekend.

Having the deadline made a difference--I had to turn in the chapter on "X" date.

Now that I'm more deadline-free, I still do a lot of wandering around and thinking. I flip through facebook. I check email. I do other mundane stuff that needs to be done, but isn't writing. I take long showers, because I think a lot in the shower. I think about plot or character when I work out. But a lot of time I'll just put off writing.

This came to a head this past Fall (coinciding with my wedding, which I'm sure is not a coincidence). I hadn't written in a long time (for me). Months. And I couldn't get past this one chapter. I knew what happened in the chapter (roughly--I knew what it needed to accomplish), but I had no idea how to get it on the page. There were choices I had to make, and I couldn't make them. I'd rewritten it about 10 times, and it wasn't getting better, or getting it done.

So I did something I have NEVER done before: I skipped ahead. I just wrote "X happens in this chapter..." and opened up the next chapter.  And it worked. I finished the rest of the novel (about 35,000 words) in a few days over a few weeks.  Now there's lots of editing to be done, but the novel itself is done (draft one, anyway), and has THE END at the end.

The problem, though, wasn't procrastination.  It was that my normal pattern, procrastination, wasn't working for me.  So I found a different one. I skipped ahead. And then, my procrastination settled back in to something I could use. My delays became a means to work out issues in my head. To daydream and brainstorm.

My point is that procrastination often gets really bashed. "Writers WRITE!" and all that. And while that's true, delaying can be equally useful.  In a way, finshing the rest of my novel was my own kind of procrastination on that one chapter. Now I'm ready to go back and write it.

Everyone writes differently.  It's really easy to get into the "I'm not writing every day! I'm not a writer!" But I've come to know, about me, that my run-up to writing is always a lot of what looks like procrastination.

If whatever you're doing leads to words (hopefully good words) on the page, then you're doing it right (write?).  Procrastination is a good friend to me, and thanks to it, I've hit my deadlines (most of the time--hey dissertations are a bitch!), and my writing has been better for it.

This is certainly not the only way to write, and lots of people may writer differently.

But I wanted to help procrastination up, dust her off a bit, and point out that maybe everyone beats up on her just a bit too much.