Sunday, September 23, 2007

Why do you procrastinate?

I think that if you asked writers "do you procrastinate?" 99.8% would say yes. And the 0.2% would be either lying or ... well, we don't really want to think or talk about the rest because they are probably named King or Gabaldon or Clancy.

The fact is... writers have the tendancy to procrastinate. They say it's a fear of... a) success, b) failure or c) both. I'd love to say I don't procrastinate, but I do. It's really a control thing for me. I think it is kind of like how I used to keep my room as a teenager: messy. I wanted my area to be just the way I wanted it. I didn't want to clean it until I wanted to clean it. I would not clean it a minute sooner than I wanted to clean it despite admonishments from my mother.

Psychology Today has a great article about why we procrastinate.

A few points really stood out for me as particularly writerly:

Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, "I'll feel more like doing this tomorrow." Or "I work best under pressure." But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure. In addition, they protect their sense of self by saying "this isn't important." Another big lie procrastinators indulge is that time pressure makes them more creative. Unfortunately they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way. They squander their resources avoiding.

Isn't that the truth... how many times have you gone to start an article and thought "oh tomorrow I'll feel like writing, I just need more sleep/food/coffee" or "the kids are here, I'll get my hubby to watch them tomorrow and write the whole thing in an hour". And then we spend that golden hour drinking a latte and checking our email.

Which brings me to...

Procrastinators actively look for distractions, particularly ones that don't take a lot of commitment on their part. Checking e-mail is almost perfect for this purpose. They distract themselves as a way of regulating their emotions such as fear of failure.

As writing mothers we have this one down pat. I mean how EXCITING is laundry when you don't want to write. I've done crazy things like scrub my fridge or clean the toilet when a particularly vexing article is tapping its virtual fingers on my computer screen.

The article goes on to identify three types of procrastinators:
1. Arousal types, or thrill-seekers, who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.

2.Avoiders, who may be avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success, but in either case are very concerned with what others think of them; they would rather have others think they lack effort than ability.

3.Decisional procrastinators, who cannot make a decision. Not making a decision absolves procrastinators of responsibility for the outcome of events.

Which type are you? I really think that I am number two. I think that there's a hybrid of number two... we writing mothers want to make sure that everyone (editors included) think we are Really Busy. When in fact there's more busy-ness going on to avoid writing an article.

What do you think?


Carolyn Erickson said...

Oh no...

I think I'm the second type also. And maybe the third, too, on some things.

In fact, I think I might be doing it right now...


Linda Sherwood said...

I think I'm the second type -- fear of success, but I'm not sure about the worry about what others think of me. Hmm. Do I? I'll have to consider that. Thanks for the link to the article, Heather.

Angela Williams Duea said...

Ouch, your post pointed a finger right at me! I'm certainly afraid of success, but I also like the rush and pressure of a looming deadline.

Anne said...

Some good points. I used to procrastinate for the adrenaline rush, and actually I'm very, very good under pressure (used to be in crisis management). But now, I procrastinate out of a deep and abiding hopefulness that the work will go away.

Unfortunately, that is true. So will the money.

Used*to*be*me said...

Good post. I think I am a combination of the second and third. I was very VERY bad at this when I was in school. I claimed it to be lack of motivation and then told myself that I worked better under pressure. In reality, I'm just lazy and put things off until I cannot put them off any more.

However, I had the cleanest house and a spotless fridge and stove whenever I had a big paper due.

Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

*blinks* We have to be only one of those three? I'd have said I'm all of them.

If I have to pick I'd say most of the time I'm more like number 2 as well. I’m always worried that I'll discover that I'm a terrible writer. When I'm not worried how bad I actually am I'm afraid my life will radically change if I see some measure of success.

I connect with number three because I often have a lot of trouble deciding which of the many projects I'm working on to focus on. It gets too hard to make decisions that it's easier just to not do anything.

Besides, it's so much more stimulating to feel that rush of productivity you get when the deadline looms too close for comfort.