The Art of Procrastination

Some days writing is the last thing I want to do. Whenever I’m in the mood to reorganize a closet or refold my husband’s T-shirts, I take it as a sign I’m supposed to be writing. Pretty crazy to avoid my passion, huh? Not that I don’t get great ideas and conjure up unusual words and sentences while executing the mundane, but I admit I delay writing, sometimes until the night before my critique group gathers. Or that very morning.

I recall nudging my sons to finish their homework right after school instead of waiting until bedtime. Then why do I procrastinate? Because the laundry needs my attention and I have 53 unanswered emails. I remind myself, if I wish to be a writer I must write. And that doesn’t mean I should call or email a friend to bounce my ideas off them for moral support. Dorothea Brande, in one of my favorite books, Becoming a Writer, 1934, discourages authors from verbally telling their story, because talking about it deflates its punch. She urges her readers to write!

To entice myself, I created a morning ritual, making the climb out of bed less painful. First, I brew dark roasted coffee and lace it with heavy whipping cream, then wander into the living room. I claim the best spot on the couch, the place with a sliver of a view. I turn on our gas fireplace and a string of sparkly Christmas tree lights that inhabit our mantelpiece all year. I’m sure guests wonder when I’m going to put them away. Replace the lights maybe, but why change what brings me comfort and spurs me into my writing mode? I ease down onto plump pillows and hug myself with a cozy blanket.

I pull out my spiral notebook to journal about any old notion that happens to straggle through my drowsy brain, without correcting my spelling or punctuation. If an injustice distracts me, I gripe or whine. I might even ask myself why I’m journaling when I have nothing to say. Journaling is like walking in place before a brisk stroll. My mental muscles warm up and gear into action. Many of my night-owl friends might scowl at my morning suggestions. I encourage those who prefer writing at midnight to come up with their own routine!

While journaling, my mind eventually meanders to my latest writing project. If I’m stuck and can’t envision the next scene or chapter, I might list every possible situation, from the ridiculous to the improbable, to get the chaos out of my head and onto the page. A silly-looking list, but occasionally ingenious scenes or scenarios emerge. I’ve tried journaling on my laptop, but without the same results as an old fashioned pencil on paper. If you can manage, I’m jealous.

I should pray and read the Bible first thing, but I frequently procrastinate. I plod on my own until I remember to thank the Lord and ask Him to bless me and steer my writing.

All through the day, I collect names, and plots, and photos of future characters out of catalogues, and my desk is blanketed with Post-it notes, scraps of paper, and books. I won’t leave the house without paper and a pencil, or my mini recorder, in case an idea blooms or a character’s name reveals itself.

Procrastination can take many forms that make us feel as though we’re writing when we’re not, for instance spending hours online or at the library doing research as a way to put off writing. My first Amish novel, Leaving Lancaster, required extensive research, because I wanted to get my facts right and capture the fascinating culture. I browsed the Internet, gathered reading material, and studied the Amish almost every night for over a year. My mission in travelling to Lancaster County, PA, was to find Amish and Mennonites to read my manuscript, to build relationships, and to inspect the area with discerning eyes. I was well rewarded with now treasured friendships, and the beauty of Lancaster County outshone my expectations!

The Amish and Mennonites I met, and other Amish fiction and nonfiction writers, have been so kind I can feel tears brewing behind my eyes when I recall how they’ve helped me. And asked for nothing in return. I’ve found authors are a generous lot. I understand the difficulty of locating a critique group. I prayed five years for a Christian critique group, and my prayer was answered tenfold! A gathering of eight dedicated authors, we sometimes dawdle-procrastination!-until one of us looks at the clock and reminds us we’ve gathered for a specific purpose and time is scarce. Then we pray, and with kindness and humor, get honest in as short amount of time as possible. And we encourage each other to finish our projects, because we all procrastinate.

Writing is much like painting: An artist can rework and improve an area or even change the whole background. I’ve learned to enjoy rewriting and editing, and the challenge of improving my work, then bringing it to completion.

Ah, time for a pat on the back and a celebration of chocolate or Thai take-out, then I head out for a neighborhood walk with my recorder as new ideas percolate.