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Ponderings on Procrastination and Perfection

January 16, 2015

A mama/writer friend of mine shared with me an article, “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators” http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/why-writers-are-the-worst-procrastinators/283773/ It resonated. And it got me thinking, which was a positive distraction from the constant worry I’m always doing. (Let me take a moment to procrastinate while I ponder if those two things are actually distinct entities in my brain….) The upshot of the article is that writers procrastinate, sometimes to great detriment, because they have thrived most of their lives on natural ability and have not learned that it is ok to occasionally fail (read: to write shit). Rather, they think that everything they put to paper must be perfect, and that anything less proves that they never had any talent to begin with. I have indeed experienced this phenomenon. Once? Twice? Nope. Every time I sit down to write. But before I head to therapy for this deep-seated, apparently universal, insecurity, let me ponder it further ...


Just like the woman who wrote the original article, I procrastinated writing this response to it. I only eventually sat down to write it because I am going to a writing workshop tonight, and I wanted to be able to say that, “Yes! I am a writer! I write every day. To wit, I just wrote and published something today as a matter of fact.” (As an aside, I will reveal that I didn’t actually finish and publish this piece until today, the day after the workshop--where we pondered and wrote about this exact phenomenon.)


I understand now that I procrastinate because I am a writer. (The article said so, it must be true, and I now have an excuse!) I procrastinate because I want perfection, and I have to wait for inspiration or time pressures to strike in order to actually produce something. Of course, inspiration itself is no guarantee of a perfectly penned product. And being in a time crunch is just as unlikely to produce perfection, but it can at least provide the external motivation (read: facilitating anxiety) necessary to write something, perfect or not (so long as it hasn’t turned into debilitating anxiety, in which case, nothing gets written, and rather than be faced with a page of potential shit, the writer is able to cling to the myth that the piece would have been really great, probably perfect actually, had she actually written it.)


But really, what is perfect? If I confess to not publishing anything unless it is “perfect,” I am, of course, referring to my own subjective version of perfect. Because what if I think it’s perfect but someone else thinks it’s shit? That is likely to happen every single time. The piece might be typo-free but conceptually vapid; grammatically precise but ideologically sloppy. In an ideal world, my perfect writing might be conceived, executed, and edited with a keen eye and sharp mind. But I remind you again that I am a mom. A middle-aged mom. With distracting responsibilities and hormones. There is no latitude for perfect, and its definition changes daily. Hourly. Moment to moment. My brain is either an electrified minefield or a bowl full of jelly at any given time. And yet I continue to strive for perfection—in my own sloppy, accepting, anxiety-ridden, letting-go, imperfect kind of way, I want to be perfect. And not just because I’m a writer, but because I’m a card-carrying obsessive compulsive, but I’ll save that for the therapist.


I relate strongly to the idea that sometimes people fear imperfection so much that it often surpasses their fears of doing nothing (meaning, in this case, writing, though it applies to all other forms of doing like taxes and blowjobs), and I will do anything to avoid it (scrub toilets, bathe dogs, scoop poop, chit chat with the gray-haired JW who appears on my doorstep). On the flip side, I can also relate to the fear of success—geesh, what if my writing is actually good, and I have to live up to such quality thereafter? Whether fear of failure or success, I’m screwed either way. If I actually write something, I will either prove myself more or less than I really am. Which just leaves me smack dab in the proverbial middle. Which is a good place to procrastinate.


If you’re not a writer, writing something, anything, seems so easy to accomplish. When I tell my friend that I blog but that I don’t blog that often, she tells me that it’s just a blog, the entries should be easy, short, sweet, imperfect, posted weekly or daily. Hold on, I’m thinking, let’s not get too crazy and unrealistic here! Every week? Every day? I am a mother! I am a writer! Much of the problem lies in trying to reconcile those two identities. When I actually have time to write, it’s never the “write” time, of course. As a mom, I’m too distracted by food preparation, dust balls, dirty soccer uniforms, and spilled milk to focus on writing. As a writer, I’m too distracted by perfecting my craft (read: writing in long, meandering, unedited Dickensian run-ons) to actually produce a publishable product every day. This is why I never put my journalism degree to work – reporting in quick, succinct stressful bursts is not my forte. I am a creative writer. I am a thinker, a ponderer, a meticulous editor (which poses a whole other problem)… I need time to mull over my erudite thoughts, the downright life-changing nuggets of wisdom I was put on this earth to share with the world! But every time I am left wondering if my readers will witness my absolute, self-governed greatness, or be privy to the absolute bile that has been secreted from my brain in an obvious thought detoxification process. And yet, maybe both sides of me need to be heard. And maybe others will have differing opinions of what I write. Of course, they will. A reader’s opinion is just that, an opinion. And none are any more or less valid than others. They just are. Like assholes.


In the end, though, what this blog has done is motivate me to write. And I have been writing more than I have in a long time. Not all of my four readers may get to read everything that I write, but they can rest assured that while they’re waiting for something to read, I am indeed procrastinating, and I will indeed eventually produce something according to that day’s version of perfect. 

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