Thursday, 3 November 2011

Procrastination: An Art Form by Jessica Ralston

I have recently decided to undertake a Post A Day challenge on Wordpress. On the first full day, I took one look at the Add New Post page and I willfully ignored it. What did I do instead? I checked Google+. I checked Twitter. I checked Facebook. I trimmed my nails. I listened to a Nerdist podcast. I fired off an e-mail. I did some yoga. A little of this, a little of that. The Add New Post page stared back at me, the cursor blinking accusingly. 
So I read a book. I could do the blog post later.
In college, I managed to turn procrastination into an art form. I would put off term papers and presentations until days (if not one day) before their due dates, then rush to the library to gather resources, then spend a sleepless night scouring the Internet and writing/preparing the paper. I would hand it in the next day, get it back a few weeks later with a big, fat, red, A or A- on the front page. Score one for me. (This talent used to confuse my mother in high school and she's still baffled by it today.) 
My roommates were always astonished; they would practice and rehearse for days on end (they were all music majors) for the big performance, as where for my big performance (a paper on the Electoral College, anyone?), I would take a quick trip to the library, write all night long, grab a coffee, go to class and hand in the paper. No big deal.
Nothing like a deadline to get you going, right?  The same happens with a lot of us in November: either you write every day, against the clock striking midnight night, trying to make that daily word count graphic skyrocket a few thousand words; or you put off the daily word counts until it's the weekend before Nov. 30 and you park your butt in a chair and write like the wind, squeaking by with 50,001 words at 11:59:00 on Nov. 30.
I think that's why people (including Wrimos) procrastinate: the adrenaline rush as you finish your projects, fingers flying over the keys, the pressure mounting, wondering whether or not you're going to make it in time. What would happen if you didn't complete your task? For most of the Wrimos, it's probably public mocking from friends, family and fellow Wrimos. I don't know about you, but I couldn't handle the shame.
For some people, that's when they do their best work: right when the clock is ticking down. I was listening to the most recent Nerdist podcast and they were talking with Ben Folds (pianist extraordinaire, also pretty humorous). They asked Folds if he sits down to write, or if he's struck by inspiration. Folds said, "I have to get struck by the deadline." Keyword: deadline. Most of his best stuff was done on a deadline. His albums are pretty phenomenal, so it seems as if there is some validity to putting things off until the very last moment. Sometimes it pays off.
So procrastinate away! Feel the rush! Do your 1667 words a day right before the clock ticks over to the next day, or park it in a chair and finish with seconds to spare (I rhymed!). 

Jessica Ralston is from Upstate New York, but decided it would be a brilliant idea to teach English in Northeast China for a year. Before moving to China, she was a copy editor at a newspaper in Western New York. She has always wanted to be a novelist; it makes her mother nervous ("You don't have a back-up plan?") and her 10-year-old self extremely happy. She enjoys reading, crocheting, cooking and traveling. You can find Jessica on Twitter (@saturdaaaay), NaNoWriMo (duendeoflorien), Google+, and Facebook. Her blog is on Wordpress.


  1. My procrastination method of choice is tinkering with my computer desktop, searching for new wallpapers, etc. I also undertake completely unrelated creative projects, which is just nuts.

    Fun post, and you're quite right, deadlines are pure win.

  2. I'm not much of an adrenaline junkie. For me, the tend to procrastinate because I don't particularly like the things I'm made to do. My writing completely changed when I got to college and I was allowed to write papers about things that actually *gasp!* interested me. Required stuff I still save for the last minute, though.

  3. I'm achieve more when I have more things to do, but hate rushing anything so couldn't wait until the last minute to tackle Nano. I was up against it last year for a while though.

  4. More suggestions:
    dust computer keys, massage handcream into fingers until too slimy for clean computer keys, straighten pictures on wall, count pens in jar, meditate for ten minutes.....
    No, sorry, avoid the last one. It leads straight into productive writing which is what I'm trying to avoid. Don't do it. Too late. Here we go....

  5. I wrote all my papers in college the same way. And I was a candidate for valedictorian! works for some of us.

    But I see November as my "crunch time". I've been hanging on to stories and characters for so long and now I have this deadline approaching. So I crank out my 50K words in 30 days, and "hand in" my paper to get my "A".

  6. Ooh, meditation! How does that work for writing?

  7. It's a great feeling. I love it. Except sometimes I hit a rut and then I'm stalled for a few days. I watch the word count graphic stay the same for a few days, and it's enough to kickstart me into writing again.

  8. Hi Jessica,
    Just after you left your question I found this on the copyblogger website. Why not give it a try?