When Jonita asked me if I had any funny procrastination habits, my first reaction was one of horror. Procrastinate, who me? Never! I am totally organised and efficient! I'm German! I just do Very Useful Things instead.
Ok, I admit that it does normally take me at least three attempts at sitting down before I actually start writing… but that’s just normal.
At the first attempt, I sit down, switch on the computer, stare at the screen as it starts to boot up… and then… I don’t know, I can’t quite explain it, but I just have to take a tour of the house, open a few windows, make sure the beds are made just so… that kind of thing. The environment has to be just right, you see. I could do that before I sit down, of course, and don’t think I haven’t tried. Doesn’t work! I’ve given up worrying about this little quirk of mine.
The second attempt is a bit more involved. I sit down again and actually open the file. Click, click, click. I’m busy now! Actually, hang on… I just need to tidy those pens away, they’re annoying me. And those piles of paper left from yesterday’s research need putting out of sight. Actually, while I’m moving them, I might as well file them properly, by chapter. Right, done. Good. I’m working hard, even though I’m not writing. Back to the computer then. I gaze at the screen, the cursor is blinking. I gaze out of the window. Is that a fingerprint? Is it? Well, I can’t work with a smear in my vision annoying me beyond any reasonable belief. I’ll just do a quick bit of dusting and window polishing. Will only take a sec, and then I can get on with important writing business.
Attempt number three gets under way as I sit down again. I start re-reading yesterday’s work, that’s always constructive. But no, I need a cup of tea to do that… it is, after all, 10:30, time for my morning shot of caffeine. With a big sigh entirely for my own benefit, I trudge downstairs to make a nice cup of tea. I’ll have a biscuit, too. Except I have a “don’t eat at the desk” policy (nasty conflict between crumbs and keyboard not too long ago) so I hastily and guiltily munch my biscuit pacing up and down in the kitchen, my mind turning to the writing ahead… and then, suddenly, I’m ready. I fly up the stairs, eager to get typing.
No procrastination here, then. I’m just conveniently fitting in the housework and the regulation 10:30 tea break. Nobody could accuse me of wasting time!
Oh alright. Alright! There are a few occasions where I’ve been known to resort to avoidance techniques, thinking up all manner of reasons for leaving my desk.
For example. Having reviewed a first draft of Sophie’s Turn, I needed to make some sweeping changes to what was then the prologue. I had a vague idea of chopping it up and splicing it into the first few chapters. But how? Eventually I printed the offending section out and cut it all up with the kitchen scissors. At least now I had the appropriate chunks… but how to weave them into the narrative? And where? After an hour’s fruitless deliberation, I gave up and dyed my hair instead.
And one time, I found myself going in the kitchen, slipping on the Marigolds and giving the oven a well-deserved and extremely thorough clean—leaving Sophie and Dan mid-scene while I reasoned with the oven as to whether they should go… all the way just then, or wait. Naturally, this operation took a lot longer as previously envisaged and by the time I was finished, it was time to cook dinner (not, I hasten to add, in the newly gleaming oven!). So Sophie and Dan remained frozen in their uncertain destiny until the next morning. Then, after completing steps one through three of my normal Very Useful Things routine, I finally decided quite effortlessly that they had waited so long, they could wait a bit longer!
So I would argue that procrastination, skilfully undertaken, serves a purpose and isn’t therefore ‘wasting time’ at all. J
Postscript: Other favourite Very Useful Things to do when I can’t quite get my head round writing include:
- Phoning a friend (or three)
- Listening to extremely loud music
- Checking if anything funny is on the telly (Friends will do, or Frasier, or Glee) and then spending ten minutes agonising as to whether I actually have the time to watch it!
- Performing essential computer maintenance (e.g. virus check or defrag the hard drive—a real killer as it takes hours!)
- Checking email
- Checking email again (in case something popped up in the previous two seconds)
- Checking Facebook and Twitter sites (ditto)
- Playing around with my blog (can always do with improving, so this might rightfully be counted as work rather than procrastination)
- Placing an online grocery shop (at least I don’t have to leave the house!)
- Plucking eyebrows (when I’m really stuck)
- Checking whether the post man has been (and brought anything other than bills)
- Doing some Pilates (to offset all the brownies I’m eating)
- Doing some ironing (well, who else is going to do it?)