Why Do I Procrastinate?

I ran across an online discussion today addressing why we procrastinate as writers. My comment went on so long a realized that this was something I should address on my blog. So here goes.

I spent 20 years procrastinating in regards to my writing. Hell, I spent nearly 50 years procrastinating if you start counting from when I determined that I wanted to write historical fiction until the time I successfully published my first novel, Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery.

What I find interesting is that in general I am not a procrastinator. I learned in 4th grade (best grade school teacher ever) that the students who buckled down and did their work first thing ended up with plenty of guilt free time to goof off, and I have pretty much applied that concept through the rest my life as a student, a college professor, a mother, wife, and friend. Not as a writer.

The only area of my life where I procrastinate regularly is as a fiction writer. I think that this is because writing fiction is absolutely personal-it is just for me. In all those other areas of life I have been motivated in large part by my sense of responsibility to others (to make my parents proud, to be the best professor I could be for my students, to take care of my family, and be there for my friends.).

When I do a good job (ie don’t procrastinate) my reward, in my mind, has always been to give myself permission to read fiction (ie goof off.) But even there I was careful not to start a good book unless I knew I could finish it before the next task in my “real life” came due. I was always worried that my pleasure in reading would distract me from my  responsibilities!

Only twice in my life as an adult did I let what I wanted come first for an extended period. The first time was when I was 23, and I quit my first boring job and for a solid year just read (the new feminist body of work was just coming out at this time and I devoured it). This led me to the decision to get a doctorate in history, with an emphasis women’s history.

The second time came when I was 38 and had left my tenured track job in Texas (oh those good old boys were too much for this feminist to take) and I faced the possible future of being a part-time adjunct teacher for the rest of my life. I decided if this was to be my fate, then I was justified in taking the time to fulfill my life-long dream of writing fiction. Oh the bliss! Six months of writing my mystery, my husband at work, my daughter in day-care. But then I got a full-time job at the local community college, and I no longer put myself and my writing first. That book never got published, and I stopped writing anything new.

So now, retired, my daughter grown with children of her own, my husband happily working on his own writing, I have finally put myself first. I rewrote the first mystery, published it, and I now spend day after day writing the sequel. I can spend the hours it takes to let my mind run free (and perhaps even not hear when my husband says something to me-cause I am off in that world of my own.) I can decide to go back to writing after dinner, rather than use that time to make call backs to friends. I can be selfish (listen to the pejorative term I am still using!)

However, I think in writing this I have just had a revelation. When I “procrastinate” by checking my email, or commenting on someone else’s post, or writing for my own blog, it is not because I enjoy these activities more than I do working on my book. It is because these activities are more other directed. I feel more comfortable doing these things because they help other indie writers, or because they will help sell my book (and produce the income needed to keep the family budget healthy).

I don’t think that this is necessarily a totally gendered response. Goodness knows male writers have put paid employment, in order to support their families, above their desire to write for centuries. However, until recently, most women didn’t even see there was a choice. Other responsibilities, financial or not, always came first. And I think that I often procrastinate as a writer because I haven’t yet entirely thrown off the belief that if I do something, just for myself, I am not being a good person.

So, how about you? Why do you procrastinate?

And while you think about it, I am going to go write a couple more paragraphs on my next novel, selfish person that I am!

10 Replies to “Why Do I Procrastinate?”

  1. Occasionally I have procrastinated because I think my work can’t possible be as good as everyone else’s. Blogging and being part of She Writes has really helped this, as I’ve had a lot of support and positive feedback. Thanks for addressing this issue head on.

  2. Hello! I procrastinate in all areas of my life – work and play although I do have intermittent bouts of obsessive “crossing things off the list”. My solution: a concrete deadline set by someone else. Even then, I don’t get going until it’s almost too late. What do I do whilst I’m procrastinating? I read, I devour words. Reading is my first love and a great source of comfort and dare I say escape! xx

  3. I think I could have written your post here! (Except for the work details of course…) I started blogging as a way of updating my writer’s website, and quickly saw the amazing opportunity to connect with other like-minded people. It will have to scaled back when I start a new book in earnest, but for now it seems both positive and manageable in short bites – and easier than committing to the long haul of a novel.

    Found you through SheWrites.

  4. I enjoyed this post very much. I am often one of those people who do my best work at the last minute with the deadline coming right at me. I think it is because when the pressure is on, I can push everything else out of my way and have the laser focus I need to get the work done. When I have lots of time, I take lots of time and waste lots of time. It’s silly and I wish I wasn’t like that but this little alarm goes off in my head when I start the race and when I try to do it before that, I’m just too easily distracted.

    It may be that I learned this in law school. I tried to savor all the time I could that was MY free time and I learned what I needed to do to finish the work. Even if I have to stay up all night, I will get things done if others are depending on me.

    So glad you have kept up your writing. I am new to blogging but have kept a journal for decades (1976). I did the NaNoWriMo once and loved it because it kept me on such a tight deadline, plus I am not usually a fiction writer so too much time would have made me fret over silly details.

    All the best,

  5. Wow. What a great and insightful blog. It’s spot on for me and why I have such trouble getting to my own writing. The family, or my day job, or cleaning the grout in hall always seem to come first.

    Thanks for this! And yes… get back to writing the next Annie Fuller! I need something new to read!


  6. Ok did you just do a story of my life????….as I read all I saw was that its me…its me Oh Lord….then I just jumped for joy because now I know that its not just me and I’m right where I’m suppose to be in life. Thank you kid and I will be following your blogs now. Keep letting me know when you post something new….smooches RevLa

  7. Thought-provoking! It made me realize that I procrastinate at tasks I don’t enjoy. In my case, I let the freelance proofreading project sit until the last minute while I blog/sew/garden happily away. I even do chores more thoroughly when I’m doing them to procrastinate from proofreading!

    I do a turn-about and come off like a great strategic planner when it comes to something I’m passionate about. So I’m choreographing, rehearsing and doing research on costumes for a tango that my partner and I won’t be performing until four months from now!

    Came over from SheWrites. Hi!

  8. Thanks for this post. It gave me hope-all is not lost for me…I procrastinate all the time. A cup of coffee, a nice read…I do what I have to do when I have no choice!

  9. Hi There,
    I have found that when it comes to procrastination you have to find out why you do it? and it usually comes down to one of 4 reasons(or all 4 for some people) once you know why you can work on changing it to stop procrastination. I wrote an article on the first reason a little while ago and it may help.


    Hope you enjoy reading it

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