There is nothing more contradictory, lecherous and helpful in the world than procrastination. People put off the things they know they are supposed to do for a million different reasons: fear, doubt, overworked, under-worked, perfectionism, lack of motivation, poor time management, indecisiveness, lack of confidence, impulsivity, low energy and work fatigue and on and on and on.
There is no amount of things you can do before doing what you are supposed to do which is why, being a writer and ordered by the literary Gods to write what you know (or fake it until you have a body of work one can defend themselves with), I decided to write about the double-edged benefits of dawdling.
Why? Because I'm doing it right now.
We are not straight arrows. We snake and swoon, swim and dive, and sometimes get set on paths that have little to connection to what we were doing seconds before but sometimes, that's where you find yourself.
A distraction could lead you to answer you've been struggling with for months, the last line of novel, or the last straw to break so to finally force you to move on. Procrastination can be a perpetrator that holds you back but it can also be a cloaked' push to rejoice in new perspectives and uncomfortable ideas that transmute into keys to unlocking problems you never thought would be solved. Even this piece is a conscious act of procrastination in an effort to put off a piece I know I should be writing instead of this. Write what you know, right?
What is Procrastination?
The Webster definition of procrastination is "to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done. It implies blameworthy delay, especially through laziness or apathy. Procrastination is a state, a habit, or an instance of being slow or late about doing something that should be done."
My degree in procrastination is vast, varied, masterful, so much that I'm surprised I'm even alive. Most days I forget to eat at all, an unintentional caloric deficit I slip myself into because I'm putting off literal nourishment. On the fronts of my work, I'll sit down to write for two 30-minute blocks but not before I read a random passage from a random book on my shelf for reasons reaching so far as inspiration, syntax analysis, or seeing how the author started the last sentence of the first paragraph on the page. Then I need to get some water with sea salt in it for the electrolytes because someone named Sibyl told me that on TikTok and, oh yeah, I need to check out my "Acting TikTok" folder for any ideas I may have put in there to start start my writing day with.
Cue being on TikTok for fifteen minutes until my Flow timer dings telling me it's time to take a break. Which I do of course to pee because I drank too much water and after that, a snack where I then need to take my supplements which leads me to being on my phone again where finally, after a myriad of distractions, I put on some kind of sad classical piano music (Joep Beving) to center me. Sounds awful and that's because it is, most of the time. Which is why I've even got a little cell-phone lock box and have forced myself to sign-up for Opal, an app that locks every application on one's computer to keep you from opening it up.
One of my earliest memories of early onset multi-distractions and procrastination was having my mother come in to check on me while I was doing shoddy math homework to find a skateboarding video playing on my computer screen in the corner, Van Morrison playing in one headphone plugged into my head, the window open to the sounds of nature blasting at me, as I also typed out a letter for a friend in my typewriter. This is not a new issue I have, it is ongoing. And I'm not special, we all do it and will continue to do it, so if these apps and devices help me get out what work I need to get out, so be it.
Obviously, they don't always work.
Like I said, I'm procrastinating right now by writing this essay, though in my mind and questionable justification, it is coming from a genuine place of creativity and connection which is what this is all about, isn't it?
Why Do We Procrastinate?
The paper titled "Procrastination and Perfectionism: Connections, Understandings, and Control" by Joanne F. Foster, published in 2007 by Gifted Education International explores the relationship between perfectionism and procrastination, particularly within the context of high-ability individuals. Perfectionism, in psychology, is a broad personality trait characterized by a person's concern with striving for flawlessness. All humans, in one way or another, want to become the definition of an angel or demon, free of the burden of finitude. Seeing that's impossible, that desire comes out for some individuals in what they do, say, and live. Foster's read is fascinating, especially for someone who isn't exactly a perfectionist but prefers to slog draft after draft until finally it affects me in a way I would hope the piece would affect the reader. I'm in the school of chasing the car and having little to no idea what to do with it if I caught it. If it works first try - great. If not, try again. If not a million times, then maybe it's just for me.
For example, this is my thought process boiled down:
Submit a manuscript to a residency in Key West. Sure, it sounds tropical. Move abroad with no background in teaching English (or money)? Yes. Start a novel based on a photo of a friend who has no memory of ever taking it. Sensible.
Foster's paper discusses how educational settings, mastery orientation, metacognitive capacities, and motivation are important considerations in understanding the dynamics between perfectionism and procrastination, moving from theoretical discussions to practical classroom applications. She suggests ways to manage and mitigate the negative impacts of perfectionism and procrastination in educational environments, which are needed, especially for highly gifted individuals. Still, I also wonder who these perfectionists are afraid of being other than merely a different variation of themselves? They can always go back, can't they? Or do they feel that they can't? I would love to know more.
I have a background in theatre, so acting as someone else is a paradigm of my youth, and I've only grown from it, hopefully making my work better, more varied, and ultimately, more diverse in its scope.
Naturally, there are famous procrastinators sprinkled about history because, unsurprisingly, they are human too! One source from Psychology Today mentions that "Da Vinci's genius was tempered by procrastination" and that he never took the time to publish many of his findings. So what? He created some of the most memorable art in human history, and if he needed to take time to procrastinate, explore different aspects of himself, humanity and the world, was that not contributing to what Da Vinci did complete?
Victor Hugo, the French poet, novelist, and playwright known for "Les Misérables" and "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame," used a uniquely deranged method to combat his procrastination by reportedly locking away all his clothes to avoid leaving the house, forcing himself to stay in and write.
I can relate to this one but instead of locking away my clothes I just look at my bank account and recent credit card statements.
Margaret Atwood, the Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, and essayist, has acknowledged her tendency to procrastinate by engaging in other productive activities and shared her approach to combating procrastination, which includes having a "to-don't" list – a set of activities to avoid.
Everyone has their tricks, and what matters, in the end, is not what works for other people but what works for you to get the work you feel you want to do, with no guarantee of happiness or fulfillment in the end, but that's life, messy, chaotic, madhouse life.
When I was getting my Master's in English and Creative Writing, trying to write my novel (I still I am), I had an encounter with a professor that changed my view of output and procrastination. My thinking was if I wrote 20 pages, that's 20 pages of writing or a few hours of work, maybe validating my ego that yes, I am a writer and doing what a writer does.
"None of these pages are good except one or two," my professor told me almost indifferently.
They had obviously been here before.
I bitched and moaned, explaining I had worked on those pages, hours and hours of good, solid focus, where my professor said, so what?
"This isn't a 9 - 5 job," they explained to me. "Time doesn't even belong here in the creative world. You should see that everything you do, from writing to making eggs to staring at the wall to having a designated time to write is all part of the work, as part of your creative self."
They told me about "Ode on Indolence," a John Keats poem, where he explores the idea of being idle and its potential to inspire artistic creation. Keats portrays the struggle between the desire for leisure and the urge to engage in productive activities. His contemplation on indolence suggests that moments of boredom or idleness may be necessary for introspection and generating creative ideas instead of always producing what one believes is connected with what you are creating. There is a well in us that must be filled with outside waters and one of the many ways to retrieve it is through procrastination.
"Makes sense, doesn't it?" my professor asked a slack-jawed, suddenly upside-down grad student.
I probably said something stupid like yeah, sure.
Insert That Emerson Quote Here
Procrastination can have a path, albeit a positive if one if the wanderer holds onto the original destination. I spent four years in Chicago studying acting, character development, and theatre. Objectively, that had nothing to do with writing and I could define that time as "procrastinating" from the work I eventually discovered I am destined to be doing the rest of my life, but so what?
That time revealed in me that I am not only a writer, but a performer and a lover of live performances, myth, archetypes, audiences, film, film-acting, fuckin' mimes, dramaturgy, screenwriting, cinematography, criticism, pop culture and fame - all of it.
I don't know who I would be or what my work now would even look like without that time, and the same could be said of the countless other moments in my life where I didn't choose to put writing first but another experience: moving abroad to get away from acting where I wrote on park benches and taught kids English in school; worked shit jobs driving Uber and Lyft and hot dog carts and catering; toiling away at boring office jobs in the publishing sector because it felt like where I should be (it wasn't); most recently producing and writing Bitcoin and crypto newsletters for a popular YouTube streamer which, ironically, brought me to t2.
So, here I am, still writing and connecting to networks with my original intention, only proving to me that I will always be writing.
Is this a long-winded way of saying "there is not set path"? Or, as Ursula K. Le Guin put it, "The end justifies the means. But what if there never is an end? All we have is means." Maybe, yet these means we toil through, much like the universal specifics from which we craft our finest writings, mirror life itself—messy, chaotic, spontaneous, full of surprises, and wholly unique, are only ever garnered from a rich background of diverse experiences and often this is precisely this kind of unpredictable nature that captivates our dear readers.