The Usefulness of Procrastination

22 01 2010

Today, I’m not really blocked but I’m not exactly riding the wave either. It’s more like I’m waiting for a good one, and just chillin’ and coasting on the water, watching the ocean and wondering when a good one will come rolling in.

Which, of course, could be called ‘waiting for the muse’, but really is just one form of procrastination. I’m not going to beat myself up about this, because we all do it, and sometimes it’s actually helpful NOT to write….sometimes. And it’s the sometimes part that’s tricky to learn about and balance.

Sometimes procrastination is helpful because it gets me out of my head and makes me do something seemingly unrelated to my writing–like going to cook a dish I’ve been wanting to make or taking a walk. When I go do those things, it sometimes triggers something in my body/mind–a motion I make when I’m cooking, an image I come across on my walk–that inspires me to go back to my computer and start typing again. It may be something that reminds me of the story or piece I’m working on. In those cases, what started out as procrastination or just needing a break become a catalyst for a good idea that gets incorporated into my writing. This is where I know that what seems like procrastination is actually part of what artists call ‘process’–how access the stories, images and voices inside my head and get them down on the page.

And then there are other times, more numerous, when I just want to stop writing because it feels too hard–I’m stuck on a scene that’s just coming out all corny and dumb, or I just can’t think of anything to write that interests me–and go shopping, get on Facebook, do work, or play online Scrabble (which I’m doing right now, by the way, while I’m writing this post). These particular activities don’t usually lead to writerly revelations–although I tell myself that playing Scrabble helps build my vocabulary (really, it does!)–so I’ve realized it’s best to try to avoid them.

And then, sometimes, I really do just need a break. My brain is tired and I’m not going to get anything out of it if I keep sitting here trying to write–except a raging migraine. But the hard (and often frustrating, but also weirdly delightful) part of the writing process is that, when I step away from my keyboard and go do something else, I’m not quite sure why I’m doing it or where it will lead. Maybe I’ll get some big burst of inspiration, maybe I’ll just get some rest for my weary (or more often than not, lazy) brain, or maybe I’ll get neither.

In the end, the work is always there, waiting for me to take it up again. And in the end, no one else can do it but me. That thought is enough to make anyone want to go shopping instead.

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