Procrastination’s Purpose

Yesterday I cleaned out my freezers. Not just the one in the kitchen, but the big deep-freeze in the basement too.

How does this have anything to do with writing your book, you may ask? Ah, it is classic procrastination.

When faced with a daunting writing task, the first thing you always must do is find some completely unnecessary task that suddenly has taken on mammoth importance and tackle that instead of the writing work you are supposed to be doing. (In my defense it was getting to the point where you’d have to open the freezer from the side to protect defenseless toes from the kamikaze bricks of flying squash. Plus, was a bit tedious shoving and pushing and elbowing the peas and frozen waffles back in there whenever you wanted an ice cube.)

Now, WHY should anyone procrastinate in this way, and how could it possibly benefit a writer?

Procrastination, at its best, can incite the Productive Panic.  It works like this: after a day spent scraping dehydrated chicken breasts off the back wall of your freezer, suddenly you look up and it’s 3:00.  You’ve got exactly two hours until you have to pick up the kid, at which point all chance of work goes down the disposal with the frozen mystery stew and the shriveled cake from last Easter.

So you sit down and start to write something, anything, so that you’ll end the day by saying, “Hey, I accomplished something on my book today!” Instead of saying, “Well, I cleaned the freezer….”

Sometimes what you write in the Productive Panic is total crap. Sometimes it’s brilliant. Usually, it’s somewhere in-between. Bits of crap and bits of genius all rolled up together. Yesterday, what I wrote wasn’t that great, but it had the virtue of both being written, and getting me thinking about the new introduction or preface (I’m still grappling with which one) that I’m working on in a pretty productive and useful way. Would I have done more if I’d worked all day?  Maybe. But maybe not. Sometime’s there’s stress in the six-hour stretch of time that rebounds into massive unproductivity.  Sometimes it’s good just to take a quick pass at something. That’s what I did yesterday. And so today, I’ve got three pages of ideas to work with.

And, bonus!  Clean freezers.

2 responses to “Procrastination’s Purpose

  1. yet another historian

    Just popped by for the first time in ages to see if there was anything going on here, and hooray, there was! Your hilarious entries made my own diss-writing much, well, easier would be a stretch under any circumstances, but somewhat better. Looking forward to mutual discomfort on manuscript revision. Congratulations on tenure!

  2. Thanks, Fellow Historian! Glad to have been a small bit useful. Good luck with your revisions!

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