Joe Warnimont starts out his recent post, “A Day in the Life of a Writer: Temptations Throughout” with a Pearls Before Swine cartoon that resonates with the wordsmith in me.
Procrastination is a writer’s greatest enemy. Why does it plague us so? Writing is such a personal, internal process. It is difficult, and we all try to avoid difficulty if we can.
A friend and I often joke that, when we are staring off into space, we’re writing. It’s true, though. When I started out in newspapers (lo! those many years ago), we used typewriters. To rearrange paragraphs, I had to literally cut and paste the paper the copy was written on. I hated that! I think it was because the rubber cement always got all over my hands and reminded me of boogers.
Anyway, to avoid that, I would sit and compose my stories in my head before I ever started typing. Anyone who saw me would assume I was goofing off. I’d look like I was procrastinating, but I really was working.
The real procrastination usually hits when I don’t know how to begin or when I get stuck and can’t continue. Then I’m like Dug in Disney’s Up. (Squirrel?!) I have to force myself to push through.
How? Well, sometimes I do get that cup of coffee. Sometimes I take a walk, pay bills, wash a load of clothes, play with the dog, or (if I’m desperately avoiding writing) vacuum. More often than not, I’m working something out in my head — or at least that’s what I tell myself.
Yes, there are those times when I really am avoiding writing. My problem is that I am constantly editing as I write (a bad habit I picked up as a reporter). If it’s not just right, I go back and fix it before I’m finished. All that stuff floating around in my head is not going to be perfect, but I want it to be before I type it out.
The blessed invention of word processing allows me to write garbage then go back and revise it without getting slime on my hands. When I am faced with a big, white computer screen, or when my sentence just stops and I’m not sure what the next word should be, I take a breath and press on with whatever garbage comes out of my fingertips.
I’m going to go back and revise it anyway.
(P.S. Joe has some great tips on avoiding procrastination. One thing I do is screen my calls through the answering machine. If I’m writing, I don’t pick up unless it’s an emergency – a real one!)