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The Art of Procrastination


By Margaret Terhune

My friends and family think of me as an organized, efficient person. I pay my bills on time, keep my house relatively clean and remember most people’s birthdays. When it comes to my writing life, however, things are a little bit different. Organization and efficiency, neatness and cleanliness become wonderful reasons to put off working. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing. I wouldn’t spend so much time doing it if I didn’t love it. It’s just that, sometimes, it takes me a little while to get started.

On a typical morning, for example, I pay my bills, tidy my desk, check my e-mail (and answer pressing messages), read writing-related newsletters, log onto the internet to check a few writing sites and try my luck at my favorite trivia sites. Then I play a few games of Solitaire until lunchtime. After lunch, when I’ve run out of things to keep my busy, I happily write until my hands cramp up, my eyes bug out or the dog asks to go for a walk (whichever comes first).

This scenario mostly plays itself out when I am between assignments or working on long-term projects. When a deadline looms near, these diversions disappear and my more focused writing self takes over. I have developed some successful counter-procrastination measures which allow me to write without the usual delays.

I try to allot one morning a week for the business side of things: bills, correspondence, sending out guideline requests, reading newsletters and magazines. Everything that comes in after that goes into a drawer until the following week.

Once I turn on my computer, I open my word-processing program and immediately start work. Bypassing the lures of the internet, I save e-mail, trivia and games for an end of day reward.

Since I’m usually working on more than one project at a time, I try to keep related items in their own piles – around, but not on the desk. When I need ideas or research notes for a specific article, they’re accessible and already organized.

I keep a desk calendar for writing deadlines and refer to it frequently. I also try to assign myself personal “due dates” for unsolicited pieces. This helps me avoid lengthy spans of chronic procrastination and keeps me motivated during dry spells.

Of course, procrastination in moderation can be very helpful. There’s nothing wrong with being organized as long as it doesn’t impede the basic writing process. Taking a few minutes to create physical order clears the mind and helps concentration. When writer’s block strikes (as it frequently does), sifting through a pile of writing-related material can spark new ideas. Once in a while, I’ll spend half a day going through old files and I usually discover treasure: a story that’s ready to be re-written or a forgotten page of notes that inspires a new piece.

So now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to work. After I take the dog for a walk, that is…


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