Creative Procrastination

Here is a fun fact for you all: I had planned to write and schedule this post to go up several weeks ago. However, I realized that other things would do better if they were written earlier, and that I would be better-able to write this post if I–you guessed it–creatively procrastinated on writing it.

So. Creative procrastination.

What in the world.

I know. I get it. I thought the same thing when I first read about this concept in Marshall J. Cook’s Freeing Your Creativity. It sounds ludicrous. I know–I can be a procrastinator with the worst of them, I know what it is to fight against the urge that says, “Eh, maybe tomorrow…” when it needs to be done today. I know what it is like to drag yourself to the keyboard and hammer out one word at a time, because you know you can’t go on with stalling any longer. I’ve been there. I’ve had to buckle down, pull a Cena, and Just Do It.

For me, that can be half the battle, and hats off to you for knowing when you can’t stand to not write anymore.

With all of that said… there is some wisdom in waiting.

Here’s the thing. As important as it is to write the words down, it’s also important to have ideas to write down. All the better if those ideas are thoroughly-researched, well-developed, and thoughtfully considered. Do you have enough knowledge or background to write the scene that needs writing, today? Have you developed the details that could happen, the emotions that should be flying, the stakes of the moment? Do you know the reaching ramifications of this written moment? Who is in it, how does it cascade into later moments–and, honestly, have you played out several different scenarios in how the scene could go, and carefully selected the one that will best help you tell the story at hand?

All of this stuff takes time to think about. Straight-up. And that’s not a bad thing. This is a boon in disguise, and sometimes, it is a very very necessary one.

Consider: you have a story you want to write. You have the idea fresh in your brain, and it’s banging at the inside of your skull, begging to live out its life on paper. It’s new enough to be shiny and interesting to you, and it’s brilliant enough to have captured your attention, your heart, and your soul.

You have two options, here.

One, you could sit your butt down and write the story.

Two, you could take down some notes, and wait.

The second option sounds ludicrous. I get it. Inspiration doesn’t often come knocking, and when you’ve got the idea and the drive for it, why wait? And honestly, it’s up to you to decide. Only you can know when a thing needs to get written. If it needs writing, do not let me stop you! Go forth! Write on! Write that sucker down and build a home for it in the good ol’ Word doc.

But take a moment to consider what you might stand to gain by waiting.

Bear with me. I’d love to take you through a personal example which recently (as in, this last week) resulted in bountiful gains. I’ll try not to make it too long-winded, and I’ll try to clearly illustrate the point I’m getting at. It goes like this:

About a year and a half ago, I wrote the first draft of a fantasy novel. It was new, and shiny, and everything that writing in a fit of wild inspiration could hope to garner for you. There was plot! Romance! Description! Mystery, excitement, a plot twist! All wrapped up in a satisfying semi-cliffhanger ending that emotional arcs resolved, but trouble looming on the horizon.

It was great… for a first draft.

Like all first drafts, it had its issues. I sent it to a few very close friends for a cold read, gathered some comments, and planned to re-write a mere two months after writing it!

I didn’t re-write it. I could feel it was not time, yet.

Other opportunities presented themselves. I could have re-written anyone one of those times, in the last year and a half. At first, it was about developing some cognitive distance–which is, by the way, an excellent reason to wait on re-writing or editing!–but once I’d firmly established that I’d been away from it for long enough to look at it with a more critical eye, I could still feel that the time wasn’t right. So–what was I doing?

I was simmering on it. I thought deeply about the comments, and also allowing myself to think about other stuff. I was loosening my grip on what I’d already written, and thinking more about what would follow. I was doing research, and reading about what the first book in a series has to establish, what it has to set up, and what it has to be on its own.

And then, just yesterday, it happened. I’d pushed the project back, and back, and back, without actually losing passion or interest in it. I’d not let go of my love for the story, but I’d let go of the need to keep my shiny baby perfectly intact. Yesterday I woke up and was rewarded with the boon of my waiting–refining ideas.

The thing is, when we first get a shiny new idea for a story, it is an infant idea. It is exciting, and it may well have a grain of something really good in it. But by pushing off the act of writing (or at least the act of committing), something marvelous happens. You can let your mind wander, and continue to play. You consider different alternatives. The idea comes back, but with a new coat of paint, new additions, new twists–suddenly, things fall into place bigger and better than they ever did before.

While you were pushing off committing to that first idea, your mind played, and when the idea came back, it gave you something that had more time to develop. When your idea next comes to you, it might just be built up into something even greater than what it was prior. It’ll excite you anew.

This isn’t to say that you should always wait for this to happen.  There’s a balance to strike. You’ve got to write it at some point. I’m so happy I wrote the first draft of my fantasy novel when I did. I needed to be written, then, while the idea was shiny and new and, yes, underdeveloped.

And then it needed to sit there for a year and a half while I wrote other projects, did my research, understood what the book needed to be… and gave myself time to imagine how I could make that so.

It sounds absolutely bonkers to consciously put off the act of writing. You shouldn’t always do it. Sometimes your inspiration will strike, and you should take advantage of it! Inspiration, after all, is not always in great supply, and it would be rude to refuse a gift from the muse. But it’s worth trying sometime. You can always jot down notes, or a smidgen of a scene, and then push your idea off for a while longer. See what comes of the time.

Until yesterday, I’d been worried that adding 10k words to my novel would be an impossible task. I am no longer worried. By putting off this novel re-write, I allowed my ideas ample time to mature, to develop thematically, and to connect to other events across the series. Without creatively procrastinating, I honestly cannot say whether I would have the direction I do now, or not.

Your mileage, of course, may vary. Some creative procrastination will happen naturally, and sometimes, it is good to enforce a little. Just make sure you aren’t using creative procrastination as an excuse to not write.

Balance to be struck, my lovelies. For every adage, there is an opposite and equal piece of advice. Humans are wild, contradictory creatures, and so is the writing process. Know your own habits and methods, and make it work!

I wish you all creative bursts like the one I’ve recently had. May your time procrastinating be as lucrative!

Here’s to prepping for Camp NaNoWriMo in 25 days, and here’s to the writing!

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