In Praise of Procrastination

This is a guaranteed way to make my wife absolutely crazy: I announce, “I’m going upstairs to write.” The Missus says, “Okay. Happy writing.” And up I go to the man cave, fire up the PC, look over my outline to see what the quota of pages that day will entail, stare at the cork board covered in quotes and inspirational aphorisms (“If you’re not a writer, then you’re a waiter”, courtesy of Hal Ackerman , is my favorite) hanging above my monitor, slug back some coffee, crack my fingers like a concert pianist about to pound the ivories for a crowd of thousands… then surf the web for the next hour. Or two. While noodling around on my bass guitar. And occasionally check my email — only every five minutes or so. And take the periodic bathroom break/coffee refill. Listen to some music. Maybe sneak in a nap somewhere in there. And invariably the Missus will wander upstairs and catch me in the middle of doing any one — or two or three — of these things and take me to task for not writing.

Not writing? This is actually the height of productivity!

Okay, maybe it isn’t always. Sometimes I may just be screwing around — not that I’ll ever actually admit this, and what writer worth his Final Draft software would? There are just some days when it’s not clicking.  But often, after seemingly wasting hours of precious (and pretty much nonexistent now, thanks to the baby) writing time, my mind will snap into laser sharp focus as I hammer out five to ten pages of… well, crap, usually. But it’s five to ten pages of crap that didn’t exist that morning, crap that I will then theoretically be able to revise into something halfway decent several weeks down the line. And occasionally, before you’re ready to actually write, you’ve got to let your unconscious creative mind do the heavy lifting while you’re very consciously surfing through Ain’t It Cool News or attempting to master the bassline for Rush’s “Natural Science.” Not that I would ever do either of these things, of course, as far as the Missus is concerned.

Now, of course it’s much more satisfying to have one of those days — or nights, if I’m writing after work — when I plop down at the computer, start typing immediately and next thing I know, it’s two hours later and I’ve got ten pages of pure gold on my hands — or so they seem, until I eventually reread them and realize they’re actually fool’s gold.  But during those times, in the heat of the moment, writing is a rush.  It’s FUN.  The movie’s unspooling in my mental projector and I’m just trying to keep up as I jot it all down.  It’s an amazing feeling and it almost never actually happens.

Most of the time, I have to work at it.  I look at this flimsy, slapped together outline on my desk and ask myself, “What asshole wrote this?  Oh, yeah.  You did.”  I have to figure out how to craft actual scenes out of these vague ideas that I thought would add up to a story.  And I have no idea how to do this.  I sit there and I take notes.  I erase the notes.  I realize I am a fraud.  And in ten seconds, I will be a fraud who’s reading about the wacky exploits of Paris Hilton on tmz.com.

But then, as I wonder if Lindsay Lohan will ever get her shit together or if the movie of WATCHMEN will be any good whatsoever, a vague idea of how to proceed eventually comes to me out of the blue.  I open up Word or Final Draft again, and I type out the idea.  I try to expand on it, feel out its parameters.  That vague idea becomes more concrete, leading to more ideas.  And pretty soon, lo and behold, I’m actually working.  And it feels good.

Except that I had been working all along.  You — and by “you”, I mean my lovely, skeptical wife — just couldn’t see it.

I know that I’m not alone on this one.  I’ll bet every writer reading this goofs off to one degree or another every once in a while (or, more likely, every time they sit down to write). 

And you know what?  Goof away.  You’re probably already writing and you don’t even realize it yet.

Unless you really are just screwing around, in which case… get to work.

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13 Comments on “In Praise of Procrastination”

  1. The Missus Says:

    Hmmm… I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree on this. There’s procrastination and there’s the time I found you in your man-cave reading a review of the latest Mummy movie. (Did you really need to read a review to know that movie was crap? Really? Even Brendan Fraser’s mother probably figured that out without checking Variety.com.)

  2. Brice Says:

    Really enjoying the blog – keep it up!

  3. Paul H. Says:

    I’m a big fan of procrastination. I don’t like to do vomit drafts. Everyone has different ways of working, but I find the more I think about something the easier it is to write it out when I finally do sit down. Ever take a nap during writing and wake up with the perfect solution to a problem? That just goes to show that if you think about your work enough your subconscious will kick in. Who’s to say your subconscious isn’t solving tomorrow’s writing problems while you’re learning to play Rush basslines? The quality of the work is what counts. Goofing off is also good for the soul.

  4. William Says:

    God help you if you have Gears of War. I’m already thinking about rehab.

    GOW2 drops 11.07.08. Help me…..please.

  5. writerdad303 Says:

    Missus — Love you, honey! 🙂

    Brice — thanks! And thanks for stopping by.

    Paul — I HAVE taken a nap and woken up with a solution, but you know what works even better for me? Going for a long, brisk walk. We’ve got a giant park nearby; if I go out for couple hours, after a certain point I just zone out, and eventually whatever idea I’m searching for will come to me. THEN I go home and take a nap. 🙂

    William — never played GOW, though I’ve been curious. My boy Dave (of Screenwriting Manifesto) loaned me BIOSHOCK and the Orange Box disc earlier this summer and I’ve become obsessed with the former, though I have trouble finding time to actually play lately. As soon as the kid becomes a little more self-sufficient, though, I’ll be back in action…


  6. I’ve got the goofing-off part down. Need to work on the productive part.

    I’m enjoying your blog. Love that the Missus chimes in.

  7. writerdad303 Says:

    Thanks, threeundertwo! And yeah, I had to laugh (nervously) when I realized the wife was gonna respond — but hey, the blog is now a family effort… 🙂

    Thanks for reading.

  8. matt Says:

    I used to rationalize like you. Then I took the internet out of my computer. Six months later I had an agent and a career.

  9. writerdad303 Says:

    Matt — hopefully it won’t come to that for me. (Losing the internet, that is. An agent and a career would be just dandy.) Don’t get me wrong — I get the work done. It’s just that sometimes when I find myself stuck, it’s usually because I don’t know my story well enough, hence the procrastination. But my wife is right in her comment above — there’s procrastination and then there’s wasting time; fortunately, because of the whole new family thing, I don’t have much opportunity for either anymore. It’s pretty much pedal-to-the-metal when I’m writing these days, so hopefully my newfound focus will pay off like yours has.

  10. matt Says:

    I usually have a second script I half heartedly work on instead of spacing. I’ve found that writing begets more writing. There’s something bout goofing off that ups the self loathing, self doubt.

    Love the blog. Happy to read anything when you have something you’re ready to show.

  11. writerdad303 Says:

    It’s funny — when I’ve been really blocked on something, I’ve occasionally tried to toggle between projects too, but then I run the risk of having script #2 take priority if it suddenly sparks to life. That’s all well and good unless I hit a new block with #2 and still haven’t licked the problem with #1, and then I suddenly jump ship to script #3, and so the vicious cycle continues and a few months later, I’ve got a bunch of half-completed projects and no clue how to finish any of ’em. THAT’S when the self-loathing and self-doubt kicks in for me. 🙂 That’s a worst case scenario, of course, and it’s only happened a couple of times in the past, but it’s a situation that continues to haunt me. These days, I find that I really need to concentrate on one story at a time, especially when I’m hammering away at a first draft.

    Glad you’re digging the blog, and thanks very much for the offer. Unfortunately for you, I may very well take you up on it one of these days… 🙂


  12. writerdad303 is the writingest guy I know. I just have to attest to that. Because he’s the real deal, and also because it really pisses me off. Every time I talk to him, he’s just written another script — and I talk to him A LOT.

    And now to hear you get all this done and procrastinate too? Enough already! What do I have to do to slow you down? I already loaned you BIOSHOCK. Well, I hear World of Warcraft is pretty addictive…

  13. writerdad303 Says:

    In the time it took you to write that comment, Dave, I wrote two first drafts, polished a third, outlined a brand new story and also found the time to clean the bathroom, fold the laundry and detail both of our cars. It’s not MY fault you can’t learn how to effectively manage your time… 🙂

    Rest assured, folks — Dave may me pissed at my allegedly insane work ethic, but what he doesn’t tell you is that everything I write sucks, so it’s actually a wash. Besides, once THE FORCE UNLEASHED drops into the Xbox 360 at WriterDad Manor next month, I’ll barely have time to eat and bathe, let alone write… or take care of the baby… or talk to my wife…


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