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.”
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.
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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