Procrastination is a purposefully created illusion of having all the time in the world. It’s Scarlett O’Hara when she says: “I won’t think about it today. I’ll think about it tomorrow.” It’s reading a book instead of writing one. It’s choosing the sofa over the gym. It’s taking the easy way out.
For me, procrastination happens when something is hard to do, or unpleasant, or makes me feel uncomfortable. I know it won’t go away just because I don’t do it, but avoidance feels better than the activity.
But is procrastination also necessary? It is certainly impossible to maintain a constant flow of ideas and creativity. The brain needs to rest sometimes. There’s also the fact that if you only write, and never live, you won’t soon have anything to write about.
Many, many creative people seem to come at creativity from pain. Hemingway famously described writing as bleeding on paper. If that’s how you write, then sure, I don’t blame you for putting it off.
Bleeding onto paper is not a passive process. The blood won’t just start flowing and color that blank page without any effort on your part. First, you have to make the cut. And this is what most of us resist when we procrastinate, that first painful slash through our insecurities, fears, and feelings of inadequacy.
My technique for getting over this is to just start writing. If you don’t have a subject, then just anything. No bar, no criteria, no calling yourself a talentless twat. The only requirement is that you produce text. This is usually not painful. It’s the equivalent of applying a local anesthetic before entering cut mode. Words on paper are much less painful than the ones in your head. The multitude of words detracts from their power. What’s in a word, when there are a thousand others right next to it?
And as the blank page is no longer blank, the thoughts usually start to take some kind of form. It’s not always pretty. Sometimes it can be quite cringe-worthy. But it is producing, and that is the most important thing, since the only way to be something is to do something.
Procrastination as such is not dangerous. It slows you down, and that might be a good thing, too. Creativity and the feeling of being rushed are not best friends. Procrastination becomes dangerous if it gets out of hand, because then it might stop you entirely. I used to struggle terribly with procrastination. Then, one day, I pinned it down in a corner and left it there. These days I mostly just take it out when I want to get coffee or chocolate. Or pay the bills. Or clean the house. Or walk around in a circle in the middle of the living room. Or look at flowers very closely. Or… okay, it’s still with me, every day, but these days I have a better handle on it.
Controlled procrastination might be the best thing you could give your creativity. The right to stop, and just be, or the right to do things that need doing, the right to live a little, and the right to be a bit whacky and off course. Don’t think of it as time wasted, think of it as time spent enabling creativity.
Final verdict: Procrastination is good as a break, but bad as the status quo.
This post was inspired by the following tweet: