Originally published in the SCBWI-MI Newsletter.
I meant to write this essay the day I pitched it, but that was two weeks ago. I could list some reasons why I haven’t done it yet and they’d all be legitimate, but the bottom line is pretty simple: I’m apparently addicted to adrenalin. Last-minute assignments are like writer crack for me. I love the exhilaration of nailing a piece of writing with only hours or minutes to spare.
It doesn’t matter how long I am given to write, I leave it until the last minute. I get things done, but there’s a fair amount of emotional turmoil during the actual writing. Every time I do it, I think, “I need more time.” And yet, I don’t change my behavior to give me more time in the future. I talked to an artist about this phenomenon; she did the same sort of thing. I expected her to agree that we were both sick puppies and should resolve to do better. But instead she said, “You know what? I have to honor my process.”
(Pause to let that sink in.)
A-ha! It’s my artistic process. I should stop feeling guilty about it.
Objectively, it works for me. I don’t procrastinate to the point of needing to ask for extensions. I don’t have to cancel social invitations or miss out on family stuff to meet my deadlines. The stress lands heavily on my shoulders, but it seems to focus me in a good way, like a muscle-bound muse holding me firmly in my chair.
If procrastination makes you ill, annoys your co-workers, or affects the quality of your work, I don’t think it’s artistic process. It’s something else: a bad habit or avoidance, and should be dealt with accordingly. Another friend was getting anxious about a far-off deadline and I told her not to sweat it—wait until a couple weeks before the due date and then get started. She looked at me like I’d told her to steal a bingo marker from a little old lady. “Now THAT would make me sick!” she said, and started her project the next day. She finished it with several months to spare, happy as a blue-hair yelling BINGO for the big jackpot.
I’m sure there are advantages to getting things done early. You can take on more work, if you want. (I don’t.) You can fret about other things. (Remind me why that’s good?) You can pat yourself on the back for a job well done. (I do that anyway).
But here’s my problem with “finishing” early: I am never finished. I tweak endlessly. Even when I feel I’ve written my heart out, if the manuscript is not in the mail, I am thinking about it making it better. Instead of having three months to relax after getting something done early, I’d have three months of cutting and reinserting niggling edits. And I doubt my writing would be any better for them, and in some cases, it would surely be worse.
If you are a closet procrastinator ready to embrace your inner slowpoke, the next newsletter will have specific pointers for getting more work done in less time. If, on the other hand, the thought of waiting another minute more to cross something off your to-do list makes you squeamish, you’ll have to consult another expert. (Who has probably *already* written an article about getting things done in a timely manner).
Want more? Part 2 can be found here.