The Benefits of Procrastination

Written by M.J. Moores | February 13, 2014

It’s the weekend, the kids are out with your spouse and you have nothing to do but work on your manuscript – except the breakfast dishes aren’t going to clean themselves, even if all they need is a bit of help into the dishwasher.  Oh, and the dog needs to be walked, dinner should be taken out of the freezer, and a load of laundry should get put on while you think of it, otherwise no one will have clean underwear for tomorrow…

That doesn’t sound like you?

How about, it’s Friday night and you’re exhausted from a long week at work.  All you want to do is sleep, but your manuscript is almost done.  If you lie down, your brain will keep you awake but at the same time you’re sick of looking at a computer screen.  Maybe a bit of TV will relax you enough to – you get a text.  Your friends are going to the movies.  It’s a ‘working weekend’ but you convince yourself you’ll have time for the book.  You grab your jacket and head out the door.

We are our own worst enemies.  As writers there is a story in us that needs to be told but time and again we find ways to avoid sitting down and – well – writing.  But procrastination is not the curse we think it is.  No, procrastination is our subconscious mind helping us work through stubborn moments – some people call it ‘writers block’ and others ‘being lazy.’  It’s neither.

When a writer is in the zone, that fantastic place where we can’t help but put words on the page whether we’re at the computer or in the middle of a conference at work, we either know where we’re going with the manuscript or the characters are being particularly forthcoming for a change.  However, it’s rare that a writer remains in the zone throughout an entire piece.  There are times when any excuse to avoid writing is a good excuse – and really, it is.

Procrastination is a necessary coping mechanism and a useful tool for writers.  There are two kinds: escapism & avoidest behaviour.  Simply put, those who use procrastination recharge or refocus their mind and/or body.  Both techniques are useful for a writer, just in slightly different ways.  The more you are aware of why you procrastinate, the better prepared you will be when you eventually do get back to writing.

The escapist is a writer in need of recharging: you go to sleep, you watch TV or a movie, you read a book or listen to music.  You submerse yourself completely in something else.  This is not an absolute break from writing though.  You need to feel awake and rejuvenated in order to write.  Sometimes, we need to distance ourselves from one thing in order to kick our brain back into gear.  The down-time is necessary: we are replenishing our creative reservoir.

An avoider is a writer in need of refocusing: you walk the dog, clean the bathroom, or collate your files.  You are performing a task that keeps your body active and allows your mind to spin.  Sitting at the computer waiting for the right idea or the right words to come, means you’ll be focusing on how you’re not getting anywhere.  By occupying your body with an alternate task you are giving your subconscious permission to spin while your conscious mind focuses on a new undertaking.  The brain can then fit ideas together and make connections without the hassle of our inner voice telling it to ‘hurry up.’  This is the epitome of the phrase, “Don’t think about it and it will come to you.”

By recognizing your perchance for procrastination, you become aware of your subconscious needs.  We all require down-time, what we do with it and how we use it to our advantage separates the smart writers from those who are lost.  Give yourself permission to procrastinate and let your ideas incubate.   Fighting yourself, telling yourself you should be writing instead of doing this alternate task, does not help.  You block your subconscious rhythms and it takes even longer to sort through and process what you need than if you just let yourself go.

Take hold of your procrastination tendencies and use it as the tool it’s meant to be.  If knowledge is power, then empower yourselves as writers: go forth and procrastinate with a clear conscience – give yourself permission to be distracted in order to make sense of your work and finally move forward.

About the Author
M.J. Moores began her career as a high school English teacher with a passion for creative writing.  Recently, she left the teaching profession to work as a freelance writer as she prepares her science fiction novel for publishing.  Unimpressed with the lack of straightforward, simple (and free) resources available to new and emerging writers, she started her own online editing company and writers’ blog (Infinite Pathways) to help her fellow compatriots.  M.J. is the author of Publicizing Yourself: A Beginners Guide to Author Marketing available through Smashwords. http://infinite-pathways.org  –  http://facebook.com/AuthorMJMoores