Sunday morning admission: I am currently suffering from a bad case of procrastination. If my children read this, they will laugh and feel vindicated. I am not the family member who typically suffers from this condition. I’m the one who gets things done, who takes control and finishes what I start. I do this at work, with the household chores, with activities that need to be scheduled and arrangements that must be made. Why then, do I find it so difficult to do that which I profess to love so much? Why am I procrastinating with my writing?
Writing is the thing I’ve most wanted to do since I can remember. All of us have ideas about what we will be when we grow up, but then life happens and oftentimes, we don’t end up where we thought we’d be. I have no regrets about my educational and career paths, but about ten years ago I felt something was missing. Turns out it was the writing. As a kid, I spent countless hours penning stories and poems in my room. I kept detailed diaries and rarely missed a day’s entry. I wrote letters to friends and relatives and even to my girlhood celebrity crushes (David Cassidy, I apologize for the stalker-like notes I’m sure I sent to you). My best friend and I created “magazines” for our own amusement and when we temporarily lived in different cities, receiving her magazine in the mail and creating one to send back to her was often the highlight of my week (by the way, this friend, Ms. Caitlin Rother, is now a very successful writer…go figure!).
I went back to my creative writing roots several years ago by taking some courses through the UCLA Writer’s Program. I started with short stories – the first of which was dreadful, as I’m sure my former instructor would attest. Writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised and when it’s not, well, the results are less than stellar. But with time and practice, I reconnected with my writing passion and finally had one of my stories published. Soon after, I realized that I really wanted to write a novel. I had an idea – I just needed the time and energy to execute it. At the time, I had several demanding clients in my technology PR practice, my kids were young and equally demanding, and life moved at a frantic pace. And yet, somehow, I was determined to write, and at the end of three years, produced a first draft. I began pitching and querying agents, embarking on what I’d hoped would eventually be a new career. Of course, as any experienced writer will tell you, it’s just not that easy and, now, I realize that maybe the novel just wasn’t that ready. After many promising responses and requests to see more pages or the full manuscript, I ended up with a drawer full of rejection notes and a bad case of the writer’s blues. Things got busy on the work and home front and I put my novel aside.
But the writing bug didn’t disappear. Seven years later, I’m back in a writing class, trying to rewrite the novel. It’s a painstaking process that often involves revising the same five pages fifteen times. I know that the odds are against me and that perseverance is the main ingredient for success, and after all this time I have to ask myself if I truly want this as much as I’d thought when I was a ten-year old, scribbling stories in my room. The answer may be no and if it is, I have to be willing to just enjoy the process for what it is. The good news is that there are now a myriad of other publishing options (self-publishing, ebooks and the like) and new, creative outlets for writing that never existed before, like this blog.
Which brings me to the topic of this post: procrastination. It’s easy to understand why humans procrastinate when it comes to mundane or dreaded tasks like laundry, grocery shopping or reorganizing a closet. But why do we procrastinate when it’s a task we presumably enjoy, an activity that is supposedly so close to our heart’s desire? In the past two weeks, though I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about my novel, I’ve yet to put more than a sentence on the page. Even for this blog, I realized that my goal of a weekly post is two days overdue and getting myself to sit down and type this required two cups of coffee, a completely silent kitchen and more than a little self-bribery (i.e. trying to tell myself that I could look at my Twitter and Facebook feeds and the Sunday paper only after knocking off a full page of something – anything!).
At the end of the day, do we procrastinate on the activities we love out of fear? Fear of failure? Fear of success? For myself, I can only think that it’s a little of both. If I write and fail, I will wonder what the point was, why I spent so much time in pursuit of a dream that may not come to pass. If I succeed, I will wonder how I can possibly meet the expectations and requirements of the editing/publishing process, how I can ensure that my novel is not a one-hit wonder, and how I might balance my current, financially rewarding career with writing. Procrastination is my defense mechanism, the thing that makes me pause and question myself, the process of reminding myself that nothing is quite as perfect as we imagine it might be. Succeed or fail, there will still be good days and bad, things about writing I love and things about it that I hate.
For now, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy that for a few moments this morning, I managed to conquer the procrastination monster and pen a few paragraphs for this blog. I’ll reward myself by reading the Sunday paper and wasting some time on social media…until I realize that my writing class deadline for the next installment of my revised novel is due on Tuesday…and I go to battle with the procrastination monster all over again.