Procrastination: it’s a writer’s worst enemy. Any worker’s worst enemy, actually. We put things off and continue to put them off until we realize that the deadline is looming or our project’s been in the back of a drawer for years. Creative types in particular fall victim to this trap. After all, we can’t force inspiration, can we? At least, not all the time. However, procrastination doesn’t always hinder our progress. In fact, it can be helpful. I’m talking about productive procrastination.
Productive procrastination is rather self-explanatory. Essentially, there are two ways to procrastinate: counterproductive procrastination and productive procrastination. Counterproductive procrastination is the negative form of procrastination that we normally imagine when we hear the term: browsing social media, binge-watching Game of Thrones, playing games on your phone, etc. It’s when you truly do not get anything done; you just do anything possible to put off whatever you’re avoiding.
Productive procrastination, on the other hand, involves doing things that may not appear productive but still help you get something done. So, rather than browsing social media, you’re answering work e-mails; instead of binge-watching Game of Thrones, you’re finally cleaning out the fridge; and in place of playing games on your phone, you’re calling the optometrist to make an appointment to get the new glasses you’ve needed for months. It’s possible that none of these activities are directly related to the task at hand. However, one set of activities involves getting something done that needs to be done eventually, and the other does not.
Don’t get me wrong, counterproductive procrastination can be as necessary as productive procrastination. Sometimes, we really need to just kick back, relax, and recharge. At least in modern American culture, we encourage working until you drop, and that puts such a strain on you physically, mentally, and emotionally that there is no way to keep up that pace forever. If you don’t take a break once in a while, you’ll burn yourself down to a pile of ashes, forced to start over like a Phoenix reborn from the dying flames. Trust me, I’ve been there far too many times.
Regardless, if counterproductive procrastination were the only kind of procrastination we utilized, nothing would ever get done. This is especially true for creative types. We have a tendency to run into blocks–there’s a reason “writer’s block” is such a common term–and we must take frequent breaks to reboot our creativity. However, due to these breaks being so frequent, they cannot always be counterproductive. It would truly be a waste of time. But how can we turn this time into productive procrastination?
Consider this post I’m writing. It’s actually my way of procrastinating. I have several deadlines for freelance projects coming up. Lately, I’ve been blessed with a steady stream of work that I hope will stay that way. However, that also means I have pushed my mind and my eyes to the point of exhaustion. Unfortunately, I am so anxious and stressed about everything that I have severe writer’s block. Rather than sitting around, playing games on my iPhone and retreating into myself as I so desperately want to do right now, I have decided to redirect this nervous energy into preparing posts for Vocal.
For me, this procrastination is productive. More stories get me more exposure, and more exposure gets me more freelance writing, editing, and beta reading gigs. On top of that, I get to support other struggling writers with my knowledge and experience. While this doesn’t necessarily advance my career or education, it lifts me emotionally to think that maybe I’m helping someone somewhere going through a similar situation, and that’s productive in helping me keep my sanity.
So, how can procrastination help writers be productive with their projects? That depends on the writer and the project. Still, there are some ways to procrastinate that typically help all writers:
1. Reading – One common piece of advice for writers looking to improve their writing is to read. Why not use your procrastination time to do just that? Preferably, read something that is related to the content, writing style, or genre of the project you’re taking a break from. This will help inspire you and strengthen your writing as you see what works for you and what doesn’t.
2. Research – This is one of my personal favorites, although I know it’s not always well-received. Research related to your project can help spark the imagination and get the creative juices flowing again. Rather than making yourself focus on one topic, as is usually advisable when completing “on the clock” research, let yourself go down the research rabbit hole. Start with something you know is related to your work and then follow whatever catches your eye. You might end up hopelessly off-topic, or you might just find a piece of your project that you didn’t even know was missing–or both.
3. Doodling – Believe it or not, absentmindedly doodling can really help with your writing. However, you cannot approach it with the set intention of drawing a particular image. Instead, put pen or pencil to paper and let your subconscious take over. Perhaps you’ll draw something related to your writing, although you’ll most likely not. You will, though, refuel your creativity. The lack of focus while still engaging your motor skills will allow your mind to wander, and soon you’ll find yourself daydreaming about your writing. Before you know it, you’ll be writing notes in the margins rather than doodling. It’s not a guaranteed result, but I can tell you that that is how I have gotten many story ideas and fixed many plot holes. Besides, you might just doodle something cool that you didn’t know you could draw.
Procrastination is not a waste of time. If you need something unproductive to relax and recharge, it’s not a waste to goof off for a bit. If you have a never-ending list of to-dos waiting for you, work on those to procrastinate. You just have to learn to assess your needs at that moment, and you can make your procrastination work for you and your writing.
How do you procrastinate? Are you productive, or do you need to procrastinate just to get a break from your chaotic life? Leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!
This article is a modified version of a post from my blog, The Writer's Scrap Bin. To read the original version, follow this link.