Monday 13 December 2010

The Fine Art of Procrastination

By Teri Terry
DELAY, put off doing something, postpone action, defer action, be dilatory, use delaying tactics, stall, temporize, drag’s one feet/heels, take one’s time, play for time, play a waiting game…
(Mac desktop Thesaurus)
I once bought a book called ‘The Procrastinator’s Guide to Success’, but I never got around to reading it. This sounds a good opening line, but it is actually true! After many dusty years, ignored on my book shelf, it was sold in a garage sale (UK translation: like a car boot, but it takes place, surprisingly enough, in your garage).
So you might think that this writing game might be tricky for me. There are no deadlines, other than self-imposed; no demanding boss, other than my conscience; no co-workers watching if I spend the day on social networking sites instead of MS Word, though Facebook friends sometimes help with a welcome kick.
And it is true that some days I will go to lengths to keep away from the blank page.
Like polishing my collection of ducks:

Or cleaning lime scale off all the pots and pans (with a heated solution of vinegar – it works a treat, just don’t breathe in):

Once, I even gave Banrock a bath:

I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. Everyone who writes has days when they stare at a blank page for hours, and the list of reasons why can be individual, and longer than a novel.
In the past I was very hard on myself when I didn’t get on with it. I’d lecture myself about how lucky I was to be able to work part time so I could write, and write I was going to… whether I wanted to, or not.
But somewhere along the way: I had a light-bulb moment! Procrastination isn’t always what it appears to be….
Much of the time when I can’t convince myself to get on with it, there is a reason. Something is wrong with what I am writing, and if I ignore this and push on regardless, it is a bad idea.
It is usually due to one of these:
  • I haven't been listening to one of my characters, and they're getting stroppy
  • I've started off on some tangent that has nothing to do with my story
  • there is something seriously wrong with my plot, and surgery is required
Or even:
  • I've gone off on a tangent, and it is better! And I need to stop, reassess, and rewrite the rest to match
And taking time to polish the ducks, scrub the pots, or even put an unfortunate bunny through the delicate cycle while I think about it, is time well spent. Otherwise it may not be just a few pages or chapters that are heading for my ‘cut’ file, but much, much more. And who needs that kind of pain?
Taking time to think is not procrastination.


  1. Great post! I get very angry with myself when I find myself procrastinating. Only when the light bulb moment finally comes and I've sorted out the problem that put me into procrastination mode in the first place do I forgive myself and relax.

  2. I just procrastinated by reading this blog! But what you say is so true - I was having trouble wading through a scene yesterday until it became clear to me that there just wasn't enough going on to keep the audience (or me) interested. Now excuse me while I go and rewrite it...

  3. I didn't mention my other method of procrastination: watching the cricket. Nothing much is happening, yet somehow, I just can't look away....

  4. Nice post, Teri. A little procrastination doesn't worry me, but when it snowballs I start to feel terrible. But you're right -- so often there really is a reason, even if I have trouble seeing it at the time. It can help if I write a letter to myself about the WIP and how it's going. Somehow that gets my storywriting brain in motion again, and I start to see how to move forward.

    (This somehow disappeared when I first posted it. Not sure what went wrong! So I'm posting again.)


Comments are the heart and soul of the Slushpile community, thank you! We may periodically turn on comments approval when trolls appear.

Share buttons bottom