Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In Praise of Procrastination

Now that summer has settled in, I’m getting a taste of what my post-teaching writing day will be like. I’ve had these “tastes” every summer, of course, but I never really paid that much attention before, because I always knew that I’d be going back to the classroom the next year, and the year after that. That’s changed now. This is my last summer break. So I’m trying to be aware of what works and what doesn’t, so I have some dos and don’ts for the future.

One thing that makes me uneasy is that I’m not sitting at my desk and writing for eight hours every day. Isn’t that what real writers do? Can I justify not working at a “real” job if I’m not working full-time at writing?

So I’ve been keeping busy in other ways, including catching up on my reading. I’ve finally gotten around to a book that I’ve heard about for a while, Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. Some of his tips are tried and true, some I’ve already tried and didn’t find useful, and a surprising number were strategies I hadn’t seen before (surprising because I read LOTS of books of this type, subscribe to The Writer, attend conferences, etc.). Many of these look good enough that I'm going to try them.

One really struck a chord, not as something to try, but as validation of something I already do: “TOOL 41: Turn procrastination into rehearsal. Plan and write it first in your head.” Clark talks about the self-doubt that comes when we stare out the window—or make a Starbucks run or obsessively check email or whatever—when we feel we should be writing. But instead of the usual tip about how to force yourself to buckle down, Clark says, “What would happen if we viewed this period of delay not as something destructive, but as something constructive, even necessary? What if we found a new name for procrastination? What if we called it rehearsal? . . . We all rehearse, and that includes writers. Our problem is that we call it procrastination or writer’s block.”

I’ve always known that I get a lot of writing done when it looks like all I’m doing is working on a sudoku puzzle or walking the dog or checking my Amazon numbers. But somehow I feel guilty if I’m not seeing letters appear on the screen in front of me, as though what I’m doing is, as Clark says, destructive.

I feel better about it now and will embrace those times as constructive instead. When someone comes into my study while I’m playing Spider Solitaire and asks what I’m doing, I’ll say loftily, “I’m rehearsing. What are you doing?”


  1. Oh dear--I know so many Hollys! Trying to figure out which one you are . . .