Sunday, July 08, 2007


The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants
to the seat of the chair.
-Mary Heaton Vorse

Feeling a little overwhelmed this past month, mostly because of unrealistic self-inflicted deadlines, I found myself procrastinating (and still procrastinating) on a very important project. Important to Me, that is. No one else cares about that project. No one else is depending on me delivering the final goods. No one else will blink an eye if it never materializes. And that’s the problem.

When no one else depends on your delivery, without editorial deadlines or production milestones or scheduled review meetings, it’s far too easy to push aside the Important for
the urgent or pressing “in-your-face” issues of the day.
And it’s even easier to succumb to the non-urgent issues of the day, such as going AWOL for a vanilla frapuccino and a chat with the barista. Or sailing off into the sun ( ... after all, it does rain here 300 days of the year!).

The irony is, that I most often procrastinate when I really care about a project—the perfectionist in me holding back until I know it can be perfect beyond a doubt—which, of course, is never!

I also procrastinate when I find a project dull or lacking challenge. Or if the project-at-hand doesn’t push my buttons. For example, I once scrubbed the entire house with a nail-brush and cooked a six-course cordon bleu meal, when I should have been studying for my upcoming six-hour registered stock broker’s licensing exam. The man of the house was thrilled, while my stress level soared through the roof knowing that I’d merely delayed the inevitable dreaded study of ‘puts, options, bonds, and living-wills’.

But that was many moons ago. And as much as I’ve procrastinated over the years—and still do—there are many more times when I’ve been so utterly absorbed by my work, that I forget to eat, drink, and sometimes, sleep.

At the end of the day, I always deliver. Always meet deadline. And I've learned that procrastination works for me as part of the creative process. I've learned that it’s good to sometimes allow a certain amount of time just to think ... letting fragments of ideas infuse, and thought patterns simmer, until that intangible 'something' kicks in and I’m at the boil raring to go!

So I’m not at all worried about my dalliances. And to prove that, by delaying the process even further, I looked up what other creatives had to say on the subject.
I discovered what I already knew—that at least in this areaI’m perfectly normal!
  • Amy Holden Jones believes that all writers are good procrastinators. She says that the process is of writing is grueling, until her characters begin to come alive to her, and that’s when she develops a sense of connection with the project.
  • Steven DeSouza, knows when he’s about to write because he becomes a neat freak, organizing his desk and tools until ‘it’ floods in.
  • Leonardo da Vinci was known as ‘highly distractable’. He finished The Last Supper only after his patron threatened to cut off all funds. And he took 20 years to finish painting the Mona Lisa.
  • Leslie Dixon says we all have what she calls ‘stalling mechanisms’. The phone, email, reading the newspaper. But she also believes that procrastination can be a tool for success; assuming you can control it and ultimately deliver the goods on time and in good shape, you’ll have the edge over those who can’t control it.
  • Douglas Adams’ friend, Steve Meretzky says, "Douglas has raised procrastination to an art form. Hitchhikers Guide would never have gotten done if I hadn't gone over to England and virtually camped out on his doorstep."
And with that said, I must away and cease dilly-dallying the day. As Henry Ford said: "You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do." I'm starting to boil and that proposal won't finish itself!
So what are you ‘going’ to do? Do you procrastinate? When and why? And most importantly … how? Dish up now …


Frank Baron said...

Okay, I'll fess up - as long as you promise you won't tell anyone....

You promise?


Procrastination, if done properly, isn't procrastination at all, as such. It's more like summertime, when things ripen. It takes sunshine and rain and stillness.

And time.

Sometimes. ;)

Pamela said...

(I remember that six hour series 7 exam. I did well on everything but reading corporate balance sheets)

I procrastinate. I even procrastinate procrastinating.

Ant said...

All the freaking time - Tetris and Manic Miner (which I can complete several times with my eyes closed now) seem to become must-dos when I've got tasks of ennui in front of me. (I usually try to kid myself that I'm warming up the logical bit of my brain for the programming tasks ahead of me...)

A slight tangent to this is that I sometimes procrastinate before getting out there and marketing my wares. There's a little voice inside saying "But what if the world laughs at me, or worse what if it is really crap..." Then once I bite the bullet and get out there, I realise that no-one actually gives a shit until I properly get in their face about it. By this point I'm so incensed or working so hard at getting it noticed that I've completely forgotten to a) worry or b) procrastinate.

Becca said...

Procrastinate - who me???

Yes, me. With writing, I procrastinate mostly because I fear the imperfect execution of my ideas. It's always better in my head than it turns out to be on the page.

I procrastinate other tasks because they're boring.

However, like you, once I set myself going, I always get things done in a timely fashion. It's just getting myself off the start line that takes effort.

I like the idea that all the time spent in procrastinating is "simmering time" for creative ideas. Now that's a technique that works for me, and one I will definitely keep in mind next time I'm thinking about stopping for a frappucino :)

Great post, Vicki!

Anonymous said...

Oh that's so me. If I am working with others it gets done. If it's my own 'pet project', I keep talking and thinking about it but never get down to it

NOW is a good time to begin!

kj said...

the things i proscrasinate about often feel like they will take hours, weeks, months. then when i finally do them--wham!-they're done. my father used to tell me to do yesterday's work before i began today's. i still smile when i think about that.

you are a good writer. this is a good article. i am glad we are blog buddies...

dragonflyfilly said...

well, i'm glad to read that Leonardo was "highly distractable" the past 6th months or so i find that to be very much the problem with myself!

...maybe i can look forward to accomplishing something creative soon...just as soon as i find my keys! hah hah! (i read somewhere: "it's hard to save the world if you can't even find your car keys!)...

c'est live,
cheers from,

p.s. by the way, how do you get the photo to fit in with your text like that (sailboat)...i gave up doing that a long time ago, but i sure like the way it looks...if you can tell me will you come over to my Blog? - flamingo's hideaway, thanks in anticipation...

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

I'm going to have to think about this and get back to you...

Deirdre said...

I procrastinate about sitting at my desk getting paperwork done. I can't possibly concentrate if the house needs cleaning. And really, as long as I'm at it, the cupboards need organizing and the closets must be cleaned. Then, if there's time and energy left, I'll get the accounting caught up. The only way I get right to the job is to put on blinders and walk straight to the desk.

Sometimes I put off writing by getting distracted by other things. I think that's just the perfectionistic part of me meddling with the more creative part.

dinahmow said...

Pipped by the post? Important preposition, there! If you go to my blog all will be revealed.
Good piece of work, this, Vicki, and already you're applying the goad!

Cazzie!!! said...

Nope, I never procrastinate...just is not in my nature. My dad taught me well.

Ian Lidster said...

I thought I'd invented procrastination, Vicki. And, as a writer, often facing deadlines, I understand exactly what you are saying here. I can bake bread, weed the garden, cut the grass, do the NYT crossword, play solitaire, go for a walk, go for coffee, make a phone call, grab a quick nap or take a trip to Hawaii, all in the name of not getting done what I have to. Personally, I do think it vitalizes the creative juices.
But, poor Douglas Adams. They say that the pressure to perform (in a literary sense, that is) was so stressful that it brought about the coronary that took him out so prematurely.
Good blog. By the way, I am procrastinating just by writing here, because I do have an actual deadline I should be contending with.


Anonymous said...

Have you been spying on me? This is exactly what I do. But like you, I always meet deadline. Don't get paid otherwise, and that's a great motivator!

Bibi said...

See ... I procrastinated on my responses ... but I'm THRILLED to see what wonderful company I am in!! Apart from Cazzie, who sets a wonderful example to us all. Grrr. ;-)

Now I must stop procrastinating and walk the dog so that I can get back and meet my deadline.

Ces Adorio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ces Adorio said...

Oh Bibi sorry for the deleted comment above. I couyld not stand the typo errors. This is what I had to say:

Oh I procrastinate but only when I know that I will have enough time to finsih it and deliver a very good product. I have not been late for anything yet. When I have to start a big project, I clean up and rearrange the furniture. Once I rearranged my office furniture and when my director came in she hit herself on the desk because it was not there earlier. Then she said, "You must be starting your new project." Everyone knows that when Ces moves furniture, she is on to start a huge project :-)

Bibi said...

I know several people who rearrange the furniture too. Your director knows you well!

Chris Benjamin said...

unfortunately none of my friends are willing to camp outside my door until my manuscript is ready. as you said at the start of this post, the problem is that no one cares whether this thing gets done except me.

of late, blogging is my procrastination, and i justify it by telling myself that it gives me the social support of other writers - which is somewhat true.

the occasional video game has no such rationale, and not anywhere near as productive as making a 6-course dinner for the one you love.

andrea said...

I was going to write a post about procrastination, too, but haven't gotten around to it...

I've heard that procrastinators, of which I'm definitely one, perform better at the task at hand once they elevate their anxiety/stress to a certain level, so there you go. At university my roommates loved exam time -- our toilets would suddenly sparkle!

Bibi said...

benjihopper, seems a lot of folks use blogging ... but as you say, you are writing, so it's sort of work related. ;-)

andrea, I think there's truth in the heightened anxiety level. Let it simmer then erupt in a creative frenzy! Know that feeling well.

dragonflyfilly said...

thanks for the help, bibi

WithinWithout said...

Ha! I procrastinate all the time!

In fact, I procrastinated even writing a response to this excellent post on procrastination!

I wile away the time talking and thinking and planning about how to...

Quit smoking
Get myself back into tip-top shape
Read more
Snack less
Eat better
Write a book
Camp more
Watch TV less

How's that for starters?

Bibi said...

Dragonflyfilly, you're very welcome!

Within without, sounds not unlike my list (except for the smoking). Tomorrow's another chance to ... procrastinate.

Alda said...

First time here, but certainly not new to the dilemma at hand. Your post described me to a tee - I'm a freelance writer and translator and have NEVER missed a deadline. But when it comes to work that means something special to me I procrastinate until I have about 15 minutes left of my allotted time ... then I start and REALLY get into it. Argh!!

Thanks for sharing.