When I was teaching high school English, I used the word “procrastinate” in the classroom, and one of my students gasped, “That sounds like a dirty word!”
“It is,” I assured him.
Procrastination has been a bad habit of humans since Neanderthals were saying, “I’ll go hunting and gathering later.” As a matter of fact, I started writing this post about a month ago – but I put it off. That’s pretty low, procrastinating on an article about procrastination. What can I say? Even the indomitable Scarlett O’Hara was always declaring, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
Why do I stall around instead of acting? I only procrastinate when I find the task difficult, distasteful, or frightening. For instance, I have a hard time dragging myself out of bed in the morning. But once up, I make a beeline to the coffeemaker and brew a pot. Similarly, if one of my kids were to ask me to read him or her a book, I would jump to the task. But when asked to fix them a meal, I dawdle. Checking email or Facebook? I’m on it! Clean the bathroom? Maybe later.
Nowhere has my tendency to procrastinate been worse than in the area of writing. For years I entertained fantasies about publishing a novel and going on a book tour or seeing my short story in a magazine. Yet when faced with a blank sheet of paper, or more recently, a blank Word document, I would find a million other little things to do instead. I gave myself a hundred excuses to give up on the idea of being a writer. I was too overwhelmed with work or my children; I felt too isolated being at home with just my own thoughts. And hadn’t my mother always noticed how unobservant I was? A good writer observes the myriad details of life to inform her prose. No, I convinced myself, that wasn’t me.
I have recently realized that what was holding me back was fear. What if my writing wasn’t good? What if no one wanted to read what I wrote, or worse, disparaged it? What if I hurt someone’s feelings by writing about my personal life? Luckily, I had a friend and mentor to encourage me, some inspiration from other writers, and finally, a determination to go for it no matter what. Now when I sit at the computer for the day’s writing, I take a few deep breaths, and like a swimmer, I dive in. What I create may not always be great, and it may never be published. But in the process of writing, I am finding a sense of freedom and the feeling of truly being myself. To me, that is success.
Procrastinating? I’ll do that tomorrow.