Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Fine Art of Procrastination

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

No one ever said writing was easy. Forming a cogent and interesting story, creating a believable and fascinating cast of characters who are real people instead of cardboard cutouts, choosing the exact right language, the precise words that give just the nuance you want... None of it is especially difficult, but believe me, none of these are the toughest work of writing.

Let's face it, sometimes the writing goes well. Words flow from your fingertips, paragraphs form almost of their own volition, chapters grow like beautiful, perfect weeds. Wonderful when it does, but sadly it doesn't happen often enough. Most of the time writing is work - sometimes easy work, sometimes not, but we have to make the words conform to our vision.

And then there are the days when our work simply shuts down. Getting the right word is comparable to pulling it from glue. Then you must pull out the next one, and the next, but even that is preferable to the 'I don't cares.'

The 'I don't cares' are not writers' block, nothing so simple as that. You know where the story is going, perhaps sentences and paragraphs are taking vague shape in your mind, but you just don't want to write. You sit at the computer, determined that today you will really work and break this strange stasis, but you sit at the computer and suddenly remember that you need to clean out that kitchen cabinet which has sat unmolested for the last decade. Or go visit your next-door neighbor from three houses ago. Or finish the baby blanket you started to make for your nephew, that same nephew who starts high school next week.

Unfortunately, this is more than simple procrastination. The internet has taken a lot of blame for distracting writers away from their self-appointed task as a wordsmith, but I cannot help but wonder how much is cause and how much is symptom. Same with the kitchen cabinet, the long-ago neighbor, the baby blanket, or any other of a hundred million things.

Nora Roberts, one of the most (if not the) most prolific novelists in the world says wisely "Just write the book, even if it's garbage. You can fix garbage. You can't fix a blank page." Very true, and oftentimes such a determined attitude works. During these (hopefully rare) times when it doesn't, though, no matter how much you write down, it's not only garbage, but definitely garbage that can't be fixed.

So what do we do when these black clouds of utter immobility engulf us? That is not a rhetorical question; I would really like to know, but at the moment I must run. It's been way too long since I got a Q-Tip and cleaned under the gasket on my dishwasher...


  1. Love it. And occassionally, I still have to hear it to give myself that extra little kick in the pants. (Kick, kick, kick) Okay, okay, I'm getting back to it. New month, new goal.

  2. You describe me accurately as well. There are times when I prefer cleaning the house to writing. Usually this occurs after I receive a rejection slip and feel discouraged.

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  4. I would have been here sooner to comment, but I procrastinated. Every word you say about procrastination is true. I have a notebook written in shorthand, ready to start my next project. It's the first scene. It's to the right of my keyboard. Instead of looking at it as baby steps, I see it as the massive project it is. I just completed 92,000 words on book one. So maybe it all boils down to one step at a time instead of being overwhelmed by the big picture. Great blog, Janis.