Procrastination is not a dirty word

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time but I keep putting it off.

Baaaaahaha. I kill me.

Now, I may be only mediocre at many things, but one thing I am brilliant at is procrastination. I seem to make a lot of well-intentioned plans and set myself what I think are realistic goals, and I still find myself wandering round the house picking up and putting down ornaments when I should be working on my novel, or knitting macrame chair leg covers when I should be getting started on a short story.

But you know what? Sometimes just the thought of everything I should be achieving makes me feel exhausted – and daunted. Even reading blog posts and articles about procrastination (You know the type – Ten Tips to Beat Procrastination, or Don’t let Procrastination Beat You, or Procrastination – How to Get Round to Beating it Eventually) – is enough to make me seize up. It’s like being constipated. You put off and put off going to the little room because you’re scared it’ll be too hard (literally) and a pain in the ass (ditto). And meanwhile smug self-help book authors and earnest life coaches are telling you to Just poo it. (Hey, there’s a million dollar marketing slogan in there somewhere.)

So, no Ten Tips today. Instead, I’d like to suggest a new way we writers can approach the issue of procrastination.

Let’s go a bit deeper. Rather than always trying to beat a “I can’t be arsed writing and I’ll do anything to avoid it today” mindset, let’s sit with it and explore why we might feel like that. Maybe we’ll gain some valuable insight that will ultimately be more helpful. (And if not, we’ll just have to get off our navel-gazing arses and start writing.)

Fear of Failure

Yup. Know this one. It holds me back quite regularly. I want to be a fantastic writer, and I am afraid of being a mediocre one. So the safest thing to do is not even try. But here’s something I’ve learned: if the trying is itself a wonderful journey, then the outcome becomes less and less important. If that sounds too waffly and new-agey, consider this: the more you do something, the better you get. It’s almost inevitable. So the more I write, the better I will become. I may not ever be brilliant, but I’ll be quite good, thank you very much. And one more thing: I don’t want to reach the end of my life and look back with regret at all the things I didn’t do because I was afraid of failure. I’ve already got a few of those, and I don’t want any more.

Fear of Success

This one is more insidious. Marianne Williamson wrote (this quote is often mistakenly attributed to Nelson Mandela):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Finding out that you’re actually pretty good at something can be scary. It opens doors. It leads you down unexpected paths. It can challenge deeply-held beliefs about yourself. It can also challenge you to try harder; go further. The more we have the more is expected of us, and all that. Are you ready?


Oh boy, this is a killer. I’ve written on this subject before because it is another of my areas of expertise. I want every sentence to flow out on my page perfectly. I want to be brilliant, yesterday. Note to self: Ain’t gonna happen. So enjoy the messiness and the imperfections. They are what make us human (and ultimately, much better writers).

It’s not really where your heart is

Now this one may require a bit of soul searching. Do you really want to write? Does it make your heart sing? Because folks, life’s too short to force yourself to do stuff that – most of the time – you just don’t want to do. OK, if you’re supporting a family and writing is your way of earning a crust, you may not have much of a choice right now. Finding a new job may take time. But I would urge you to start looking.

You’re good at it but you don’t love it

Other people have told you that you should write because you’re really good at it. Maybe you are. But you know what? I’m really good at fundraising (I do it professionally part-time) but I’d rather have electrodes attached to my genitals while being flogged senseless with a knotted rope than join the school fundraising committee. So…I haven’t, despite numerous “hints” (i.e. arm twisting) from overbearing mothers.

Other things are more important right now (NB: I am aware that for people who rely on writing for their entire income, this point is less relevant).

A few months ago I went days and then weeks without writing. Why? We had a foreign exchange student staying with us and I was busy getting to know her and helping her to integrate into our family. She was here for eight weeks and I think I sat down only once during that time for a solid writing session. It’s not something I’m particularly happy about, but having a student was such a fun and enriching experience that I felt I gained in other areas of my life. And who knows, I may use that experience to inform my writing in the future.

You just don’t feel like it. And that’s OK.

We don’t always have to be lean mean writing machines. We live in such a success-orientated world, sometimes NOT trying to achieve anything is good for us. Of course, if you did that all day, every day life would feel empty and unfulfilling (and disturbingly devoid of income). But now and then, for an hour here or there, giving yourself permission to achieve absolutely zilch can feel refreshingly liberating.

Procrastination is not a dirty word. It’s a word. As writers we can choose to explore its meaning and implications for our lives or we can simply reduce it to one of those Naughty Things Writers Shouldn’t Do.

And as soon as I’ve finished filing my nails and vacuuming the driveway I’ll get round to choosing. Honest.

Comments Off

2 Comments on “Procrastination is not a dirty word”

  1. Sara Crompton Meade October 15, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Thank you for giving me an excuse to ignore my proofreading work for a few minutes. I’ll get back to it after a cup of tea, I promise.

  2. belllettres October 16, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    Excellent. Tea breaks are therapeutic.

%d bloggers like this: