Procrastination: Myth, reality or your best friend in disguise?

 by Ruth Harris

I’d like to start this December 25 post by extending my heartiest congratulations to those Master Procrastinators who are still putting off their Christmas shopping. You’re the pros and we salute you!

Now to the rest of us:

My mission (and I chose to accept it) was to blog about The Big P so I turned to the global authorities on said subject. Not shrinks. Not self-help gurus. Not cubicle dwellers. Not housewives with a sink full of dishes & dust bunnies under the sofa. But … ta da!…wait for it!…the true, undisputed Rembrandts and Picassos, the acknowledged geniuses of the Art and Craft of Procrastinaion: Writers!

Who are able to luxuriate in every exquisite moment of guilt, self flagellation and despair. Who can wring every last drop from an orgy of self-loathing about not-writing. So, when I requested some info and insight, here is what I got:

            •           Humor, bitter
            •           Snark
            •           Promises to get back to me later (I’m still waiting)
            •           A single instant reply—which on closer examination turned out to be a
                        deviant form of procrastination
            •           Constructive, prescriptive recommendations
            •           Denial

Jill Metcalf (Jill’s webpage) is the multi-published, award winning author of 5 historical romance novels. Jill took the competitive approach:

  “I would have answered this sooner but...I had to build a sand castle. Then I remembered, I don’t live near a beach. Then I remembered I had to make my bed...but it was made, so I un-made it and made it again. Then I remembered I had to do laundry, but I’d already done the laundry and it was dried and I washed it all again. Then I remembered...LOL.  I’m the Queen of Procrastination.”

As the Queen of Typos, I am honored to share my throne with Procrastination Royalty.

Still, all is not sand castles and laundry. Jill concluded by saying: “I have never failed to meet a deadline or an obligation. If I give my word, I keep it.”

Fact is, HRH, the Queen of Procrastination, has obviously found a way to make procrastination work for her. 

Shelly Thacker, (Shelly’s webpage) a bestselling author of historical and paranormal romances published by Dell and Avon, took a practical, constructive approach: “When it comes to beating procrastination, visuals work best for me. I like calendars, checklists, and charts. I keep a calendar next to my computer with page goals spelled out for each week, and a checklist of chapters completed so far. Watching those numbers go up is very motivating.”

For more tips, Shelly posted an excellent article which you will find here.

Shelly’s article is loaded with helpful—and very effective—ways to beat back The Big P. Her advice is practical, very doable and it works. She’s a pro who knows what she’s talking about.

Lawrence Block, (LB’s Blog) that sneaky devil, answered instantly (really!): Turns out keeping a beady eye on his email and replying quick-as-a-flash is Larry’s creative and (obviously) efficient way to devote himself to You Know What.

In the interest of complete disclosure, I must point out that LB’s method is certainly efficient. He’s been a bestselling writer for over fifty years, the author of the bestselling Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr series plus many, many, many more titles. Larry has written under a number of pseudonyms and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1993. His Liar's Bible: A Handbook for Fiction Writers and other books of writing advice are considered classics.

Consuelo Saah Baehr: (The Repurposed Writer) Years ago, Consuelo and I shared the famous/infamous editor, Michael Korda, when we were being publishing by Simon & Schuster. Consuelo’s been TradPubbed but now has gone digital. She’s the bestselling author of Nothing To Lose  and here’s what she has to say: 

“I was a procrastination junkie and, like all career junkies, I hid my addiction by doing hard things that looked good on paper but were not my real life's work.  Hey, I have a glamorous job, leave me alone.  

“Still, many mornings, I would get some whispers from the soul hole:   You haven't written anything new in years.  I bought a procrastination tape and wrote out my list. Write another book, lose twenty pounds, re-align my sinuses and my septum.

"’You are a doer,’" screamed the man on the tape. I listened to him every day.  Nothing.

 I tried magical thinking.  Nothing. Until about a year ago life shoved me in the path of the moving train called KDP.  

“My brain said "No."  Please.  Too hard. Two people told me it wasn't hard.  It was easy—Joe Konrath and Zoe Winters.  I thought, well, I can just put one foot in front of the other so I tried it.  I tried it early in the morning when I still had clear faculties and got lost in the work. 

 “I realized that the best antidote to procrastination is momentum. If you can take a few tiny steps and keep going, momentum will pull you along.”

Liliana Hart, multi-award-winning author of romantic suspense and mystery fiction,  ( nailed it. Quoth Liliana: “Procrastination is commenting on your procrastination blog when I have 30k words left to write on a book that's due at the end of the month.”

Liliana was polite enough not to tell me to bug off with my stupid questions. And I wasn’t clueless enough to pester her again, either. I know a busy woman when I hear from one! And I also know Liliana will meet her deadline!

Now we come to the deniers. Or maybe they’re the realists. But there are writers who simply don’t believe in procrastination and/or being blocked (IME, very often the same thing).

Robert B. Parker( of the Spencer and Jesse Stone series, didn’t believe in The Big P. He thought writers should think of themselves as plumbers.

You’ve heard of plumbers who don’t show up when they’re supposed to but have you ever heard of a plumber who couldn’t fix a faucet because he was in procrastination mode?  No way. He could say his kid was sick, he could say his car broke down, he could even say he had a terrible hangover and couldn’t fix your faucet.

But if you called him and the message on his voice mail informed you he was alphabetizing his complete collection of Super Bowl tapes and couldn’t fix your faucet, he’d be booted out of the plumbers union. Basically, Parker’s advice was: “Shut up, sit down, and write.”

D.D. Scott, bestselling romantic comedy and humorous mystery author  ( and Reigning Goddess of WG2E sees it the way Parker saw it.

D.D. was succinct. And pithy, too.

 She said, and I quote: “There's no such thing as procrastination...just get your butt in your chair & get your BITCHOK Groove in full gear!!!”

“BITCHOK?” I asked D.D. “Wot’s dat?” 

She explained: Butt In The Chair, Hands On Keyboard.

I replied: lmao. Although on second thought, I probably should have said lmbo.

D.D. and Parker are pros and they have the impressive body of work to prove it. 

Yeah, Ruth, I hear you say, but what about you?

I’m strictly a minor-league procrastinator and indulge only infrequently. In my experience whenever I start diddling and futzing around, organizing my spices or rooting through my medicine cabinet to get rid of the expired aspirin and cold meds, it means that I’m stuck. My sub-conscious is sending me a message and the message is always the same: You screwed up. Somewhere. Somehow.

Whether it’s a problem with plot, voice or characterization, procrastination is an alert, telling me to figure out where I’ve gone off track. To do that, I go back to the beginning—I mean that literally, we’re talking Page One here—and read very, very attentively and carefully until I can figure out what the problem is—whether one of omission or commission.

So, if you’re like me, you will consider procrastination your friend. The ally who is sending you an important message and doing its best to help you write and finish your book.

To make one final comment about the myth/reality/agony of procrastination, here’s an anonymous observation—sometimes attributed to Monty Python:

“Procrastination is like masturbation.  At first it feels good, but in the end you're only screwing yourself.”

So have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year and, whatever else you do, stop diddling around & finish the damn book!

So, scriveners, what are your favorite procrastination techniques?

This just in from MWiDP! Anne's Hollywood mystery, THE GATSBY GAME is a Christmas freebie on Amazon for the next three days. It hit #40 in Free Contemporary Fiction yesterday. And GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY  is only 99 cents for a limited time.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,