Crafting. Jam. Giving the dog a bath. Sweeping the dust bunnies out from under the bed. Daydreaming. Alphabetizing the books on your shelf. Cleaning the closet. Washing the walls. Baking bread. These are all things I do to avoid sitting at the computer and getting down to business.
I’m a procrastinator. Always have been. In college, I was the one sitting up till dawn working on the paper that was due in just hours. Since I commuted 80 miles to my university, time management was a bit of a problem. I’m sure there’s a relevant psychological theory about people like me, but right now, I’m not worried about bills and term papers, I’m thinking about the book I should be writing.
Years ago, I was hired to write a play for a local theatre. The hitch was that the play was cast and already in rehearsal when I came on board. The director had a basic idea of what he wanted as well as some rudimentary dialogue, but it was up to me to show up at rehearsal every night…script in hand.
I didn’t have time to procrastinate or not produce. But still, I’d find my days being wasted by distractions. I’d start making soap or polishing my shoes. I’d watch a TV or take a nap. By four o’ clock, I was on the computer frantically composing, printing and then rushing to the theatre to make copies. I remember there was one day when I was sitting on a sofa, literally staring at the wall. My mother came through, looked at me and said, “What are you doing?” I thought for a moment and answered, “I’m working.” That moment was a revelation. All the distractions, diversions and avoidance were part of my creative process.
So back to that book I should be writing; it’s not crashing in on me just yet, but I feel guilty because I’m not using my time well. I’m not getting words on the page. But is it time wasted? Again, my mother asked one of those questions. She wanted to know what my next book was going to be about. Well, I sat and told her. That’s when it occurred to me that I’d already created the story, all that remained was to compose it.
The creative mind is mysterious and complex. Pay attention to your writing patterns, what seems to be procrastination or wasting time might actually be your creative subconscious at work. I think of all those dozens of history papers that were always completed right at the edge of their deadline; none ever scored less than a “B” grade. They always went in on time. In reality, I’d done the research and organization, all that was left was the writing. I recall all the guilt associated with running so late, and really, it was misplaced. Yes, I probably can (and often do) work with more efficiency, but the point is, what works for me might not work for you, and visa-versa. I can mentally organize and outline a novella…without so much as a note. But I have a heck of a time getting ready for a trip without a rigid “to do” list. I know other writers who rigorously outline and work a very organized, structured day. That’s just not me.
How does your mind work? Do you get sidelined by guilt over what you think is writer’s block? Perhaps your mind is approaching the task differently than you realize. Guilt is non-productive. Give yourself a break. You might be getting more done than you realize. J