On Procrastination: Why must we trick ourselves to write?

Illustration by Daniel Zender.

A friend of mine once told me about a writer she knew who left a list of all the people he wanted to prove himself to next to his keyboard. Whenever he would sit down to write his novel, the list would inspire him to finish it. The names of his enemies, high school bullies, the teacher who told him that he would work at McDonalds... All those names. He would show them.
I don’t know what happened to this person, but I have thought of this story often, as there are times when I would do anything to feel inspired.

For me, however, the thought of others only distracts me when I am trying to write. But I like the idea that this worked for someone.
So much anxiety surrounds writing - it is not only the lack of time that prevents us from it. The story about using revenge as a “trick” to get oneself to write is interesting to me because it is another way to get yourself to do something you actually want to do. Why can’t so many of us “Just Do It”? What would Joyce Carol Oates say?
One of my writing friends considers everything we do a part of writing. She believes that in order for us to write what we will write, we have to live - to go around not writing - so that we can eventually sit down and compose our thoughts. This idea can relieve some of the anxiety we might have when not writing, but can only work so long. Eventually, the novel has to be written.
NaNoWriMo. A prompt a day. Deadlines. Workshops.

There are so many tricks and exercises to get ourselves to write, but perhaps the more important aspect to this idea is why we need these things. What is it - when time is not the issue - that makes it so hard for us to do what we want to do?
In the movie The Shining, when Jack Nicholson finally gets the time to write, he loses his mind.

Faced with only himself, the truth is he might not have anything to say.
So, perhaps fear is one reason. What if we try and fail? What if we try and end up wasting our time? There are a million other things we could be doing. Right?
Or perhaps people never write the novel they have inside them because they are afraid of becoming lost in their made-up worlds, disengaging from the actual world to fully focus on something that is completely their own, feeling as if they might be shirking their other responsibilities. To lose track of time for such a very long time might be scary. To devote oneself solely to oneself, although necessary, might feel like losing control of everything else.
If you read advice from writers on “how” to write or set routine or get inspired, there is no real consensus. Every writer writes and procrastinates in a different way. The thing about procrastinating from writing a novel, however, is that it is not an assignment from anyone but yourself. You are the one who cares the most about whether you write or you don’t.

So maybe that is it. Maybe it’s not a trick or an exercise, but a certain kindness and acknowledgment for the part of yourself that has the book in mind, the words just waiting, and something important to say. And maybe if you can hold onto that idea, what you need is only a shiver of warmth to comfort that tiny screaming part of you. And then the space to listen.

Continue Reading...