Where would writers be without procrastination? It would be nice to think that without it we would all have written a hundred novels in our first year and still have the drive to write another hundred. The universe doesn’t work like that, of course, because one of its largely unstated** main laws is “whatever you’re doing, there is always something more interesting/less physically demanding/more physically demanding/less mind taxing/more mind taxing that you could be doing, I mean, look over there, that’s more interesting than writing this, isn’t it?”***.
Multi-tasking is all fine and well but so is simply watching the chickens taking a dust bath when you should be working. I once worked as a consultant in an office in a big town in England and the whole department ground to a halt to watch a swan crossing the main ring road. It couldn’t use the pedestrian crossing, of course, as the lights clearly show a picture of a man not a bird. Fortunately, it turns out we are still a nation of animal lovers and the traffic stopped to let the bird across. For a few minutes, work stopped on whatever it was we were supposed to be doing and when it resumed, everyone felt enriched for the experience and the break. Probably.
Doing other things when you are in the middle of something can be very productive. One of my favourite authors, James Thurber, wrote one of my favourite books whilst he was supposed to be writing another book entirely. He wrote “The 13 Clocks” and to appreciate it, you have to read it out loud. It is as if a poet wrote prose without realising it. I made an audiobook of this gem for my partner to listen to while I was away watching swans cross the road and I suspect I had more fun reading it to a microphone than she did listening to it. It also features an indeterminate creature called the “todal” in it, a creature that is “made out of lip”.
Procrastination is something that can be recursive too. This means that you can procrastinate while you are procrastinating when you should be doing something else. This can be quite complex and, if you aren’t careful, you end up doing the thing you were doing originally in order to avoid doing the thing you are now doing. See? For example: I was working, then I decided to write some of my blog because I was beginning find the work a little uninspiring (I am editing a scientific paper at the moment), then I thought that a cup of tea would be the thing to energise me, then I watched the chickens fooling about in the garden (see thesnailofhappiness for news on the chickens), then I thought I had better do some editing so I started to write more of my blog…and so on.
I reckon that I spend about 20% of my day doing things while I ought to be doing other things. But somehow, it all works out. The editing is done, the tea is made, the blog is written, the book is developed. Well, maybe not the last one. Perhaps I need to start on my next but one book for it to work?
I suspect it probably only works if you’re James Thurber.
** And in a second you’ll see why it’s largely unstated.
***See? Unwieldy doesn’t cover it. Still, not every law or theory can be as neat as E=mc2 or “if I set up the barbecue, it will rain within ten minutes”.