Friday, April 22, 2011

The Illusion of Procrastination

I can't put off writing this blog any longer. As I write, it is 7:05 PM on 4/18/2011. I have a riding lesson in the morning and I work the next three nights. Then on Friday, when this blog will post, I'll be heading to Kentucky to visit my sisters for the weekend--after I've slept for a bit. My sister doesn't have internet service. (HOW WILL I LIVE????) Therefore, this blog must be posted tonight.

As I've mentioned in my comments on the other blogs this month, I can't really say that I'm much of a procrastinator. However, if you're looking for a couple of world class examples, my DH and my eldest son are definitely in the running. I could go on about them for days on end, but since I'm feeling gracious and magnanimous this evening, I'll pass on that. Suffice it to say that Mike has a T-shirt that says "Procrastinators of the World Unite... tomorrow." And he wears it with pride.

Not being one to put things off (I hate having stuff hanging over my head), sometimes I have to force myself to procrastinate just a bit. Other people might call it "taking a much-needed break," but I did that a while back, and it felt very strange. After I sent in the completed manuscript for CSC #8, I took a few days off before I began book #9. I felt like I was slacking terribly. But guess what? I'm already 10,000 words into it and I haven't even gotten my edits back for #8. No, wait. That was only three weeks ago. Really???

You see, this illustrates the reason why a lot of us probably think we've been procrastinating. We simply don't have the luxury of taking our sweet time with our work anymore. Before I was published, I could crank out books like crazy. I printed them up and put them in Amazon boxes and let my friends pass them around. There were no deadlines to prove that I wasn't writing them fast enough, but I wrote ten of them in two years.

Then I sold that first manuscript. Suddenly, good time management wasn't enough because at any given time, I was writing one book, editing a second, and promoting a third. It nearly killed me. I've backed off since then, and though I'm sure there are folks out there who don't think I'm writing fast enough, well, if they want me to write faster, they need to come to my house and fix dinner, do the shopping, mow the lawn, clean the barn, and work my full-time nursing job for me. Granted, my DH helps with a lot of those things, but though he's great at picking up pizza, he can't cook worth a darn.

No matter how hard any of us try to keep up with everything that needs doing, we can't win. We prioritize, which means that some things have to wait, giving the illusion that we are procrastinating when we are really doing everything we can as fast as we can. So, while the computer sits there, its cursor blinking at me as if to say, "You'd better get busy! You've got a deadline!" There will always be grass that keeps growing, cat hair that piles up in the corners, and a refrigerator that needs restocking. The best we can hope for is to get done that which needs to be done before someone lowers the boom on us.

Then there is that other nightmare that only makes us seem like we're procrastinating: The increasingly faulty memory. I used to have an excellent memory and rarely forgot to do anything. Not so anymore. Age has taken its toll, and now that I'm trying to do so many things at once, I've become a hazard. My son Sam worries to the point that he calls me to make sure I've turned off the stove. And he has good reason to worry, but what this also does is make it appear that I'm putting things off, when in reality, I've just plain forgotten.

So, the next time someone accuses you of procrastinating, tell them they've got it all wrong. You're really doing the best you can to keep up, it's just hard to remember everything.

At least, that's what I keep telling myself. . . .


  1. Sing it, sister! After my first book, TASTE ME, was published, I was feeling a little stressed out and overwhelmed, wondering where the hell my writing time had gone. I did a work breakdown structure (/geek!) and determined that, though my available writing TIME hadn't changed, my writing WORKLOAD had near-tripled. Writing one manuscript, editing another, promoting a third, attending to the business of writing with its emails, writing loops, social media work, blogging and blog touring, conferences, taking classes...No wonder I was feeling stressed out and overwhelmed! (Add to this that having just finished writing my second manuscript, I'm still figuring out how I bloody write.) I also know that the more I attempt to multi-task, the more digital shrapnel and minutiae that I attempt to process, the poorer I perform, and the emerging research on this topic tells me I'm not alone. Given all this juggling - with a day job, family commitments, and managing health issues - I'm on an annual release schedule. Sometimes I fall into the trap of comparing my career and output to more prolific writers, then I slap myself upside the head. We all do what we can, the best we can.

  2. Hmm... It would appear that I'm not alone!

  3. I'm singing along with you, too, Cheryl. That grating off key voice behind you would be me!

    First of all you writers who hold down day jobs and find time to write are my heroes! I'm privileged to be a full time writer who doesn't even have to wear shoes all week. You'd think I'd have every thing under control but if I lost my calendar they'd have to send John Rheed, the guy down at the funeral home, to get me.

    But when my writing to do list is as long as a grocery list for a wheat harvest crew, I remember a conversation that I had several years with an aspiring unpublished author. She asked me at an RWA conference what I was working on. I said that I'd just finished my contracts but had signed on for another three book series and had this, this and this to do when I got back home.

    She looked me right in the eye and said, "I don't feel a bit sorry for you."

    That little sentence has been branded on my brain for years now!

  4. Yeah, I've heard several versions of "I'd like to have a problem like that" (and you probably know who sang that song, Carolyn!) from various people, but though we're doing what we love, writing, like everything else, is not without its downsides!

  5. Loved your post, Cheryl. I agree. I don't put things off, but I do get behind sometimes on all I'm trying to do!

  6. Love your post Cheryl. I'm just going to say that I'm rescheduling.

  7. Cheryl, I LOVE that poster.
    I must steal it for my hubby.


  8. Great post, Cheryl - thanks! I always feel like I'm procrastinating, but when I step back and look at my life I realize I'm rarely NOT working. And if I complain, there's definitely the guilt factor - how can I complain when I have everything I ever wanted? So I just scramble on, take a Motrin, and smile.

  9. You do seem to have a rather full plate. After reading your post, I took a serious look at mine. Discovered that though I thought I was procrastinating, I have been doing more in the category of "trying to keep up" than I had thought.

  10. Cheryl, I so agree. I'm singing the same tune.

  11. LOL! Good one, Mary G!

    I hear you, Joanne. I'm working pretty much all the time, and since I am occasionally inspired by a dream, I'm doing research even when I'm asleep!

    I think it's true for most of us, Lil & Amelia. There simply aren't enough hours in the day to keep up sometimes.

    Hi Donna! Are you still having that problem even after retirement??? ARRGGGHHH!!! And I was so looking forward to that....

    Heading out to see my sisters now. No internet until Sunday night. Scary thought, isn't it?

  12. Totally agree! I'm so busy with kids and work and writing it's easy to get turned around. Often I try to multitask to be more efficient (I'm right now in the vet's office with two cats and a dog) but then it's easy to forget something I needed to do.

    By the way, where did your DH get that T-shirt? I need one!

  13. Hey Cheryl, I am the queen of procrastination. I'm not proud of it-and I pay for it often-but that hasn't seemed to cure me of this horrible trait.

    I NEED a shirt like Mike's. It's perfect!

  14. Great post Cheryl. I love your son's T-shirt. It's priceless. I do procrastinate.

    You make an excellent point about how busy things get. That's where I am, writing one, editing another, promoting one. And as Tamara said, just the business of writing takes so much. Emails and loops, Facebook and Twitter. I was a secretary and I swear I didn't do this much work. I need a person. A secretary, an assistant, a maid. Something.

  15. I've read one article after another that tells me: WE CANNOT MULTITASK. We can do little pieces of one thing at a time, and to the extent we have to re-orient ourselves to each task between every little piece, it is not an efficient way to proceed.

    This is a comfort when I'm trying to figure out why that business of having a WIP. a set of revisions, a set of galleys, and some blogs to write feels like a bigger load than just beavering away on one WIP after another. It IS a bigger load. Thanks for the reminder, and the reassurance that I'm not the only bunny staring at these headlights.

  16. --> I've read one article after another that tells me: WE CANNOT MULTITASK. We can do little pieces of one thing at a time, and to the extent we have to re-orient ourselves to each task between every little piece, it is not an efficient way to proceed. <---

    Grace, you nailed it.

  17. We picked that T-shirt up in a shop in Myrtle Beach, but I have no idea which one. I'd be willing to bet you could get one online.