Hidden Forms of Procrastination

I was reading an article about how writers envision their “perfect writing space.” Once they have the space to do it, they’ll dedicate a room to their craft, purchase an expensive writing desk, and furnish their writing space with things that inspire them. After their perfect writing space is made, though, they prefer to write anywhere else.

I couldn’t help but laugh about it, because I’m guilty of this myself. In my last apartment, I had a 5′ x 9′ pantry attached to the kitchen. Instead of using this tiny room for storage, I had a great vision of using this tiny room as my dedicated writing room. I imagined myself hunched over a small desk, writing into the late night, and finishing the first draft of my first book — all because I could finally get some privacy to focus on my writing.

I set my thoughts into motion. I covered the cold tile floor with some carpet. I bought a small writing desk, and assembled it inside the room. Finally, I sat in every chair on the sales floor in Office Depot and selected the most comfortable one. My writing room was complete.

And yet it wasn’t. I had started writing longhand, but I imagined that if I was going to get serious about writing, I needed a laptop. It would be my “dedicated writing laptop” for my “dedicated writing room.”

I spent the money to get my laptop, but then it mostly remained untouched in my writing room. From the little use it was getting, I had essentially purchased a $1000 paperweight. Why wasn’t I writing?

I imagined that it must be because my writing room was so drab. White walls, with nothing to draw inspiration from. I bought and framed a 30″ x 24″ poster of Rocky, the greatest underdog story ever told. I hung it on the wall across from my desk so that it could help inspire me. But it wasn’t enough.

I bought a corkboard, and hung that on another wall. I used it to capture all of my great writing ideas as they came to me, by writing the ideas down on an index card and tacking them to it.

I bought a surfing calendar, and hung that on the wall next to the corkboard. It helped hide the ugly breaker box, reminded me of each passing day, and made me smile whenever I checked out the new month’s surfer girl.

I bought a tiny corner shelf, which I mounted across from the door. It was just big enough to hold a radio alarm clock. This way I could keep track of time, and maybe listen to the WRIF as I worked.

I bought a small, single-shelf bookshelf. I mounted it behind me and above my desk. I filled it with some of my favorite novels, a pocket dictionary and pocket thesaurus, as well as some “How to be a Writer” books, my favorite of which was called “How to Write a Damn Good Novel.”

My Writing Room - Never Used - #1

My Writing Room - Never Used - #2

My Writing Room - Never Used - #3

After all of this preparation to build my perfect writing space, I still avoided it. The only time I went in there was to water the plant.

What was really happening, was that I was using the idea of writing as a form of not writing. I was imagining that I could build a writing space so that I could look at it and say “See? I am a writer. Just look. Look! Look at all this writing stuff!”

The truth is, the time spent creating my writing room was a form of procrastination. It was tricky though, because it was a hidden form of procrastination. I fooled myself, because I honestly felt like the things that I was doing were productive. Later, when I moved out of that apartment and realized how I failed to write anything at all in that room, I understood just how stupid I was being.

There’s an episode of The Office where Michael Scott has quit his job to start his own company. On his first day of his new life, he plans to start working “after breakfast.” In order to avoid having to deal with the overwhelming amount of work he has to do, he simply keeps making breakfast.

Michael Scott - "After breakfast"

I think that in some ways, we all have these goals that we’re planning on doing, but when it comes to actually doing them we get scared. We think that we’ll fail, or become overwhelmed at the amount of work ahead of us. Consequently, we choose to busy ourselves with other projects instead.

I know that whenever I have an approaching deadline, suddenly the task of doing laundry doesn’t seem so bad. In fact I look forward to it. While I’m at it, I figure I’ll also change the sheets, and then make the bed up real nice. Similarly, I’ll decide to wash the dishes, and then the task expands and I’m suddenly be wiping down the kitchen counter. That leads into cleaning the whole kitchen, and before I know it the apartment is spotless.

Although I’m proud at the cleanliness of my apartment, I then go into panic mode. My deadline is much closer, but I’m no closer to finishing my work before it arrives.

Hidden procrastination is tricky like that. You’re accomplishing something, but at the cost of not accomplishing something else. By saying “Yes” to the distraction, you’re saying “No” to the thing that really needs to get done.

Maybe that thing that needs doing is bigger, more important, and consequently more intimidating — but if you say “Yes” to procrastination often enough, you’ll never achieve the real goals you’re anxious to accomplish.

Fight back. Ignore the hidden forms of procrastination in favor of the real tasks that need doing. Don’t tell yourself you’ll start after breakfast, or once the laundry’s done. Not later, now.

My new apartment lacks a writing room. I wrote this article while sitting on my sofa. I’ve learned that I don’t need a dedicated writing space to be a writer.

To be a writer, I just need to write.

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3 Responses to “Hidden Forms of Procrastination”

#1 Carissa Starr on 27, Oct, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I write as well, a screenwriter and hobbyist (although I’ve had minor things published)…but I went through just this with my photography. While my studio does actually serve a function, I had taken time to set up a mini-office in it as well…all of which is just my garage. I had a folding table for a desk, my lap top and my corkboard just like you. I had a calendar for marking off my appointments, etc. I’d even made a make shift shelf out of a sturdy file box and a storage tote so I could move everything out of the way when I needed to shoot. Then two things happened: 1) it started getting colder, which I had foolishly not considered, and even a space heater didn’t help keep me warm enough to avoid working in a parka. 2) my laptop was killed in an unfortunate dog/iced tea incident…so I was forced to return to doing my photo edits and other business on my bedroom computer again…with the calender, corkboard and shelves I already had.

Now, I have to break all that down. I can’t afford a new laptop so it’s just a gross waste of space…and I don’t get anything done.

I just finished writing a screenplay out long hand in the living room where I could gain inspirations for my visuals, etc from films of the same genre and other things that inspire me. Honestly, I dread the idea of sitting in my bedroom all day, have found other little hidden procrastinations: exercising the puppy in the morning, watering the plants, doing dishes…all things that need to be done, but should be set aside until after my designated “work hours”. I find myself justifying it to my husband as being the creative type. I can’t just “magic it up” at will, force the creativity. That isn’t the part I’m avoiding…it’s the legal tediousness, the financials, all of the NON-creative aspects of running a personal business…because all I really want to be doing is writing my screenplays, shooting my films and doing my photo shoots. Like any adult, I know this. I’m like a raccoon in a hall of mirrors– “Ooh! Shiny!”

#2 Anonymous on 14, Dec, 2011 at 2:57 am

I hate to say this, but I’ve found out the only reason I was reading life changing blogs was to procrastinate working on changing my life…

#3 wini on 14, May, 2012 at 5:46 am

So true Shaun! Thanks for sharing this, at least I don’t feel too guilty for sort-of procrastinating most of the time when I don’t have the moods or passion in things I am doing. Sometimes, I have to push so hard for the ideas to come but some other times, I feel it effortless to come up with the best ideas. So, I don’t know, I don’t have quite the formula to be brilliant most of the time (in writing), but at least I know how to boost my moods and trigger my passion to help me catching this butterflies (I describe ideas as butterflies). Good luck for everything Shaun!

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