Originally posted March 23, 2012.
Are you the type who methodically maps out your writing? Do you break stories or novels down into manageable pieces, finishing a self-imposed quota each day? Do you revel in knowing that your story or article will be complete well before it’s due?
You, my friend, are missing out on one of life’s little joys. I like to call it The Game of Procrastination.
It’s easy to play. First, and most importantly, you need a deadline. Those of you working on spec are lucky enough to have one built in, but for the indies you’ll have to make one up. (If you find yourself procrastinating on even setting a deadline, you are too advanced for this game. Move along.) You need a deadline, because you can’t tell you’re procrastinating until you have one looming over your head.
Now we begin.
Sit yourself down at your computer of choice. You might choose a laptop in a cafe; this is the easy way out. There will be a ton of distractions there, most of which won’t even feel like your fault. No. For this game you should be in the comfort of your own home. Boot up your word program of choice. Crack your knuckles if you need to. Roll your head on your neck. Begin.
Wait. Maybe you should pee first. You don’t want to reach your creative zone only to be interrupted by the rude call of nature. Okay. Now that you’ve taken care of that, begin. Begin, that is, after you’ve formatted your page. You’d only have to do it later so you might as well do it now. Now, try to remember that really delightful phrase you thought of when you were at your day job. What was it? Wait, didn’t you write it down? Maybe it’s still in your pocket. You’ve changed since you got home, though, so you have to dig the pants out of the laundry. The hamper is overflowing; take a quick break to go downstairs and start some laundry.
Pass the kitchen. Make some coffee. That’s what writers do, right? You are A Writer, and you deserve your vices.
Sit down while you wait for it to brew. No point in going up to your computer, only to come back down in five minutes. Efficiency, you are a paragon of efficiency. Notice a couple squirrels on the back deck. Begin to wonder about the connection between those squirrels. Are they siblings? Squirrely little lovers?
Coffee made and back upstairs. Write a line, question the spelling of “fuschia”, look it up online. You spelled it correctly! Congrats! But your Twitter tab shows updates. You should see what’s going on. Someone’s tweeting about a cultural event they’re participating in, and you begin to realize you don’t have a “culture” of your own, sure you know your ancestors originated in Europe but what does that mean, to you, as an individual in a melting-pot nation and you begin to realize how much you don’t know about your own country, for crying out loud, it’s a shame, and you go on Amazon…nay, Chapters.ca because you’re a Canadian, dammit, and you decide now would be a great time to learn about the War of 1812, so you write down the info for the book you want and make plans to buy it later and you’re proud of yourself for not falling into a WikiHole because you have WORK TO DO and your deadline is FAST APPROACHING.
Whew. Back to work. Write a paragraph.
This coffee isn’t strong enough. You’re still sleepy. Maybe grab a quick nap, so you can recharge your creative batteries.
Wake up hours later. Oops. It is dark out. Your deadline is midnight.
Jump on that idea you had, the one about the fuschia monster, and begin to bang the keys. Maybe you should shower. That’s where you do your best thinking. Check the time: you have three hours before your deadline. Okay, a five minute shower. The hot water is relaxing. A fifteen minute shower.
Back at your desk. Throw yourself into the story, try to hit that magical place where you’re seeing the story unfold in your mind’s eye and just capturing it with keystrokes. It’s almost there, dancing maddeningly just out of reach…Check the clock. You have two hours.
Pour it on. Your fingers move without you, like it’s them telling the story, not you, and it’s working, my God it’s working, and you lose yourself in it and you only remember to breathe because some part of your monkeybrain tells you to and you check the clock and it’s down to the last hour. Check your word count. You need twice as many words as you have, so you sit forward and tune out everything around you. The house could burn down around your chair and you would keep typing. You type faster than you even knew you could, and the images and the thoughts flow out of you and it’s like you’re not even there anymore, like the ideas are writing themselves, beamed down from some heavenly Muse and you just have to get the hell out of her way.
Clock check. Half hour. No time for full sentences.
Faster. Sweat prickles. Husband peeks in on the madwoman—Not now! I’ll be human in half an hour!—and you pound the keys and the monster attacks and your hero lives or dies but now is the time to wrap it up, seam the story together and you’re high on the feeling of it and you key the last words in with five minutes to spare.
But you did it. You beat your deadline.
Every time you do this, you tell yourself you’re crazy. Next time you’ll be one of those planners, one of those normal people who don’t kill themselves to race a deadline. You know even as you think it that it won’t happen.
Because you won.