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Is Your Procrastination Misdiagnosed?

by Jennifer on March 31, 2011

This is a guest post by freelance writer, Emily Suess

Before I was a professional writer, I was a peer writing tutor at IUPUI in Indianapolis. And before I was allowed to tutor my fellow undergraduate students in the University Writing Center, I had to complete a semester-long training seminar.

“Right now I want you write about your writing process,” my professor said. “What are your habits, quirks, tips, tools? Describe how you write from start to finish. What’s the first thing you do? The second? The third?”

In the moment, none of us Writing Fellows (that was our collective academic name) could quite figure her out. So before picking up our pens, we gave her a quizzical look. She rolled her eyes at us and asked, “How can you help someone else write if you don’t know how you do it?”

Defining the Writing Process
I started that in-class, free-writing assignment with the words, “I procrastinate.” And so did every other student in the room, as it turns out. Our professor chided us for being so unoriginal and smug about our writing.

She asked us why we all thought it was so cool to procrastinate. None of us had an answer.

Eventually she got me to see that writing was a process that was much larger than scribbling notes in a diary or typing term papers with a word processor.

My whole worldview changed when I realized that reading and researching, thinking about angles, talking about ideas with classmates or friends, and even pulling my hair out were all a part of my writing process. And some of those things started the moment I got an assignment.

For me the revelation was life-changing.

My process—my writing—actually began immediately, not two nights before the 20 page paper was due. “I’m not a slacker!” I told myself.

Are You Really a Procrastinator? Or Are You Just a Poser?
Don’t get me wrong. Procrastination is real, and it can be detrimental to writers. It makes stressful situations catastrophic, increases your chances of messing up, and just generally threatens your productivity.

But sometimes we writers are a little too hard on ourselves. Sometimes we call ourselves procrastinators when we’re not. Sometimes we get lost in word counts and page counts to the point that our obsession with the numbers is what’s really holding us back.

From here on out, try giving yourself some credit for the moments you spend looking for inspiration, for the time you set aside for creativity. Realize that as a writer, pondering equals working. Stop beating yourself up and use your newfound freedom to be more productive.

What is your writing process like? Do you do anything others might find unusual or helpful?

About The Author: Emily Suess is a freelance writer and editor in Indianapolis, Indiana, and a contributing writer at SmallBusinessBonfire.com.

If you would like to write a guest post for Procrastinating Writers, be sure to read our guest post guidelines, then send an e-mail with your idea to: jennifer@procrastinatingwriters.com.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mahesh Raj Mohan March 31, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Great guest post, Emily! The procrastinating writer has become a kind of cliche, and I like how you turn it around. I only procrastinate if I can’t find my way out of a problem, and it’s usually on my own time, not a client’s, since you’re right, that can be disastrous.

2 P.S. Jones March 31, 2011 at 3:03 pm

I am very, very opposed to procrastination and I certainly don’t think it’s cool. It’s born out of fear, laziness, distraction or just the inability to complete a task in a timely manner. But part of the writing process (any creative process really) is concepting or brainstorming. I call it “marinating” because I’m slowly soaking up the ideas, turning them over in my head and rolling them around. I might marinate while doing many other things but I’m certainly not procrastinating. If you don’t marinate, how can you do the job?

3 Jennifer March 31, 2011 at 3:14 pm

@P.S. Jones That’s the whole point Emily was making in this article–so many writers think they’re procrastinating when they’re not actually writing. But as you said, it’s possible to be “marinating” on something at all times. So while you might not be writing, you are definitely not procrastinating.

I personally have been marinating on my novel for about 6 months now!! Which begs the question: Can you marinate for 6 months? Or is that borderline procrastinating? Is there a cut-off point where “marinating” becomes “procrastinating?”

4 Emily Suess March 31, 2011 at 4:34 pm

@Jennifer. That is the million dollar question, isn’t it? Where is the line where we finally cross over into procrastination.

5 Melissa Donovan March 31, 2011 at 5:14 pm

What a great post! For some reason, writers need to be reminded that thinking, planning, researching, and imagining (daydreaming) are all part of the writing process. I’ve heard authors (in interviews) say that they spent years conceptualizing their stories. Others just sit down and start writing the moment an idea strikes. I think each writer knows intuitively when they are crossing the line between working cognitively and procrastinating.

6 Jennifer March 31, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Anyone have thoughts on this? The question: how do you know when you’ve crossed the line between “marinating” and procrastinating?

7 Corey J. Popp March 31, 2011 at 9:51 pm

I am a procrastinator. My fear is I’m a poser. I should be writing right now. Instead, I’m here commenting. Everything’s outlined, I’m 11,000 words in, I’m right in the middle of my inciting incident … yet it seems like too much work to open Word and start writing again. Just a few more blogs, and then I’ll get back to my wip. I think I need a cheerleader.

8 Megs March 31, 2011 at 11:11 pm

I call it percolating. And I’ve percolated on some stories for years. As long as I’m working on something and finishing some things, I don’t really care how long a particular idea wants to simmer.

The line to me is crossed when I actually know where I want to go with something and have images or even the words start playing in my head and I’m not writing them (and not because I’m in the middle of prayer meeting and need to wait until it’s over—I’m talking not writing them for a good reason). That’s procrastinating.

If I don’t know where the story wants to go next, I can try just typing onward, but if it doesn’t flow, I’ll let it percolate some more.

9 Donna Cummings April 2, 2011 at 3:51 pm

What an intriguing post! I try to explain to people that a lot of my “writing” involves staring out the window. It looks like I’m wasting time, but I’m doing all the brainstorming/marinating/percolating stuff everyone here has mentioned. Then, out of the blue, while I’m in the shower, or driving, or chopping lettuce for a salad, ideas and words start flying at me. It seems like a complete disconnect, but it’s not, and it was such a relief once I realized that it was all part of the crazy process of writing.

10 Robert Eilers April 7, 2011 at 1:01 pm

I think everyone knows for themselves where their procrastinating line begins. Are you not writing because you are “marinating”, “percolating”, “simmering” or are you just too dang scared to do it. You have to take an honest look deep inside yourself and ask the hard question: Why have I not started on this? Am I fearing something? But you have to be honest with the answers. Don’t make yourself excuses.

11 andrew toynbee April 18, 2011 at 7:21 am

Personally, I know when I am procrastinating when I pass up any chance to scribble down notes or spend free (and increasingly precious) spare time on my Netbook. At the moment, for instance, I have ten minutes before my next task has to be started. Not quite enough time to get my head into my story. But when a spare 30 minutes appears unexpectedly, I berate myself for not using it in a useful fashion. Even the process of marinating gets noted down on paper or electronically. Sometimes, that’s when the best ideas bubble to the surface (to use the percolating metaphor).

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