Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I'm a terrible procrastinator

Anyone who's looked at my Twitter feed recently has probably seen my many #amwriting tweets about how desperate I am to finish Windborn. This is because I've been slacking on it for ages (partly because the ideas weren't fully baked and I needed time to develop them, and partly because... I was just being lazy). Writers, as I'm sure you know, are terrible procrastinators. There have even been semi-academic articles about this and why that might be.

That article I linked to claims that writers procrastinate because as long as the book is an idea and not a reality, the author can believe that it is in fact the BEST THING EVER. No one can deny it, since it doesn't exist yet. For all anyone knows, that story idea kicking around in Joe Wannabe's head is the Great American Novel, with writing that makes The Great Gatsby look like a fourth grade homework assignment and a plot that will suck you into its black hole of awesomeness.

They might have a point. I always like my ideas better when they're just visions. I can run around thinking "It's going to be so awesome and dramatic and you're going to love it and the setting will make you want to go there and OMG you will laugh and cry and want to marry it!!!" But once it's down on paper, reality kicks in and reminds me that, no, I'm not a Wonderful Word Wizard. Just another human being, trying to capture the magnificence of another world with a net woven of thoughts. (That sentence sounded a lot more profound in my head two minutes ago).

Of course, there's also the constant fretting about whether what I'm doing is good enough. I didn't have this issue with my first book, Artificial Absolutes, because I was writing in a blissful vacuum, free from all the little red pens of the world. But now that I've worked with editors and read a million and one articles about How to Write a Book, every sentence feels like a misstep. Especially everyone has different ideas about the Rules (don't use adverbs! show don't tell! don't bury your dialogue! use active verbs!) and sometimes they clash. It's enough to drive a person batty. I remember learning about an old Japanese notion from my days studying the shakuhachi: that the mind of a beginner is pure. Boy, was that true. How can I do anything when I keep second-guessing myself?

Enough with the excuses. And enough with using blogging as an excuse. Time to get some words down!



  1. I couldn't agree more, especially with paragraph 3!! I have the idea and the world adn in my head its beautiful and I can almost 5 sense the world thats in my head, but when I write, there is the doubts and the ugh why cant I describe it accurately without going all Tolkien?

    I think sometimes we need to take a breathe and just get it out and worry about the red pens later.. You write beautifully and I have enjoyed everything you have written!

  2. Aw, thanks! :-D

    And yes, I think we all need to find a way to silence that pesky little red pen... otherwise nothing will ever get done!

  3. No, you're not!

    I know several terrible procrastinators; you're nothing like them. I can guarantee you that if any of them decided to become a writer, they'll never in their life complete one short story; let alone all the novels and stories you've already completed.

    If you feel a strong urge to procrastinate about writing, and need to make an effort to resist that urge, I can certainly relate to that. But that's not at all the same thing as being a procrastinator.

    From my own experience in writing essays, I'd say the explanation that the article gives, for the urge to procrastinate, doesn't sound right at all. When I read through an essay I've written (and yes, I realize how arrogant this sounds, but it's true) it always looks to me even more profound, more persuasive, and more beautifully presented than it seemed when it was all still in my head. When I set out to write an essay, I'm very eager to get to the point when I'll have it completed, and can read through it and marvel at how great it is. But I still feel a strong urge to procrastinate about it, and need a strong effort to get myself to actually do it.

    My explanation for this is that when you write you have to take a set of ideas, existing in your mind as an interconnected whole, and translate them into an orderly, clear presentation in words one sentence at a time. This is a process that requires a lot of effort. It feels good when you look forward to it; it feels even better when you have the completed work and can admire it; but while getting from here to there, while you're actually writing, it feels difficult, daunting, even painful. That's why postponing it usually seems so tempting. I know from my experience that that's true for writing non-fiction; and I can only imagine how much more true it must be for writing fiction.

    So I think it's probably true that writers feel the urge to procrastinate, and need to make an effort to resist it, to a greater degree than most people. But that's very different from saying that they are procrastinators. Anyone who has demonstrated the ability to complete books, stories or essays, without an external deadline imposed by a school or employer, is not a procrastinator.