Procrastination: A Writers Best Frenemy
This post originally appeared on Medium.com.
I graduated from Utah State University eight years ago with a BA in History and minored in Classics with an Emphasis in Latin. That last bit is my favorite. It sounds super impressive and I get lots of “ooh’s” and “ah’s” when I tell people. Feel free to “ooh” now. Or “ah.” Whichever tickles your fancy. Why do I bring my degree up? Other than to help you take me seriously, it’s because as a history major I became a writer. And as a writer, I became an expert procrastinator. And this is where the story starts.
It is true that as a history major I wrote a trillion papers. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but it is true that I wrote more papers than the English majors did. This is not an exaggeration. My friend, who has a dual English and History degree, will back me up on this. (I understand this may not be a universal truth, but for the sake of this post we’re just gunna go with it.) Anyway, this expertise in paper-writing resulted in another form of expertise.
Procrastination is my…frenemy.
Frenemy: meaning both friend and enemy.
Before we get into the “friend” part, let’s get into the “enemy” part.
First, to set the scene — You sit down at the computer. You begin typing. The words flow for a while, but soon there’s the start of that tension. You know the kind. Where it starts in the middle of your forehead and slowly spreads. It doesn’t hurt…yet…but it’s uncomfortable and you know it’s because the literary genius inside of you is running out of reserves. You need a break. You turn to one of these methods, knowing that it’ll do the trick.
7 Procrastination Techniques
- Social Media — Talk about a time suck. “Oh, I’ll just get on for a minute to let myself relax a bit and the words will come back to me.” You start by checking Instagram. A few likes, a few comments, and you’re ready to move on. Facebook is next. A few likes, a few comments, a few click-bate traps, a little FB stalking…Next thing you know, the sun has gone down, the children are crying of hunger, and your husband (I’m putting you in my shoes so feel free to change the details in your head if you wish) has burnt the boxed mac ‘n cheese. And when he asks how your writing went for the day you nod and smile and hope he doesn’t notice the blush on your cheeks.
- Cleaning — That writing tension…it can really be a beast, but you know a sure fire way to burn some of it off. Nothing is quite as satisfying as a good energetic cleaning. You start by cleaning the debris off your desk. The illegible notes you’ve made, the candy wrappers, the millionth scribble gifted to you by your toddler all end up in the trash. Well, now the trash is full so it’s gotta go out. If you’re taking out one trash, you might as well take out all of them. Oh look, there’s food on the wall behind the kitchen garbage. Might as well scrub that off. It’s a tough one and you’re gunna need to scrape it off with that razor. You search the catch-all for the razor, but it’s a disaster so you might as well organize it while you look. Oh hey! A new Air Wick scent that’s been in there for who knows how long. Might as well plug it in the bathroom. Oh, but you don’t wanna just cover up the smell. Time to pull out the bathroom cleaners…Next thing you know, the sun has gone down, the children are crying of hunger, and your husband mentions how nice the house looks. This time the blush on your cheeks is from all the exertion and, by golly, you’re gunna own that look.
- Naps — Your eyes are just so tired and that tension isn’t helping. You’re just gunna rest for a minute. At least that’s what you tell yourself. Next thing you know, the sun has gone down, the children are crying of hunger, and your husband is asking if you’re ill. The blush on your cheeks is from a over-warm nap, but maybe he’ll buy that it’s a fever-induced flush and take care of the kids while you go to bed for the night.
- Chatting — You just need a break and some human contact! You call your mother. That conversation lasts at least an hour. Then the kids get home. Of course, it’s important that you chat with them about school, their day, their hopes and dreams. Then, the husband gets home and he chats with you in the kitchen while you work on dinner. Next thing you know, the sun has gone down, the children are saying how yummy dinner was, and you blush because you have lots of great people to chat with.
And the first thing you notice reading these? None (save maybe the first) sound like a bad thing. And that is what makes procrastination (when it comes to writing) my frenemy. So, naturally, I scoured my brain for a way to turn all these forms of procrastination into a positive in my writing.
This is the biggest. The best. The most perfect reason to procrastinate.
You can foster relationships on social media, keeping in touch with old friends, finding commonalities with new friends, and sharing family news with faraway loved ones.
And chatting. Whether it’s on the phone or in person or via text. Nothing like communication to strengthen relationships.
But! Developed relationships aren’t the only things to come from developing relationships! If you’re worried how these relationship building forms of procrastination will affect your writing think of it this way. To write a truly good book you need to have experience with many different kinds of relationships. You need to understand that there are different personalities, interactions, ways of fighting, way of making up, and a thousand other aspects of human interaction. In short, you need to have first-hand experience to be able to write relatable characters. And if you don’t have relatable characters you don’t have much of a story.
Now, there’s some sciency stuff I won’t go into, but cleanliness is SO important for your writing. As seems to be the trend, creative people aren’t the most tidy. I am the first to admit that. But I am also the first to admit that I work so much better when my surroundings are clean. When I’m not surrounded by clutter, my brain is clutter-free as well. This is just from my own experience, but there’s real-life science behind it. Google it.
Let’s not forget the science behind a rested mind. It’s common knowledge that you function better when rested. If you’re tired, your writing will suffer. I’m not even sure any of this makes sense since I haven’t had a good nights rest in…how old is my oldest? Eight years. So, take that nap and get that brain working as it should!
Take that frenemy of yours, that lovely “I”ll do it later” and cherish it. Take your procrastination from writing and turn it into a necessary part of your writing. Because, if you’re a decent writer and if you’re good at rationalizing you can make any form of procrastination a necessary part of your career.
The Chosen One. It’s a trope that many people love to hate despite its pervasiveness across popular culture. If you’re unfamiliar with the Chosen One, it’s a popular trope or narrative device used across books, TV shows, and movies where a character is destined to fulfill a certain role or mission, often because they have unique abilities or traits. These traits are frequently tied to magic, meaning you’ll see this trope a lot in fantasy and other types of speculative fiction, especially those with a young adult audience.
So how do you write well then? Realistically, there are a few things universally considered “good” writing. The story should follow a logical plot where one action feeds into another. The characters should behave in ways that align with their established personalities. There should be some high points and low points and stuff in between. Generally, good writing is also well edited and follows most of the conventions for grammar and punctuation. While you can write well with typos and mistakes, you run the risk of distracting the reader to a point where that good story becomes not so good because it’s unreadable. Ultimately, the success of things like your voice and your characters are going to be up to your reader and you’ll never please everyone. But we can take some steps to ensure we please more people than not.
That’s great—our fiction should reflect the world as it is and that means including people of various ethnic backgrounds and skin tones. But the history of writing about people of color is kind of… awful and it’s important to remember that you can’t just throw in a BIPOC character without giving some serious thought to how you represent and describe that character.