Writerly Procrastination: Why It Works (and When It Doesn't)

While listening to NPR a few months ago, I heard an interesting segment on the merits of procrastination. 

I don't often procrastinate when it comes to client work, but I am definitely guilty when it comes to my own writing. I will wait until the very last moment to complete the projects I've assigned myself, and then cram like a college student during finals week to get everything done by my self-imposed deadline.

Case in point: my book, The Art of Inspiration, was conceived back in September of 2015, but the REAL writing only started once I announced my June 20 launch date at the end of April!) 

Why do I work like this? Because when I'm really down to the wire, I become laser-focused. Rather than doing a bit here, a bit there, I channel every ounce of my creative energy into a single project, and push until it's completed.

It's rather like giving birth, actually. First, I feel those initial pangs, letting me know that there's something "coming down the pipe." Then, the creation process gradually ramps up, until I'm totally consumed and everything else falls by the wayside. (Including, to my chagrin, necessary things like sleep, food, and, you know, breaks.) Then, there's that critical transition period, when I'm so tired I can barely think, and my brain feels like it's about to implode, but I'm still pushing through the last stages to bring the project into the world. And then, finally, once it's all over and my "baby" has taken physical form, I collapse for a week or a month,  and swear to myself,

"I'll NEVER do that again."

But, of course, I will. To me, working slowly but steadily on a project over an extended period of time is like having a really, really long labor. It might not be intense, but it still requires a lot of energy. When I procrastinate, I allow the project to gestate in my head. It takes shape, and gains substance. I troubleshoot, and review my mental blueprint, and apply new thoughts and experiences to my existing ideas. I tweak my outline. I become intimately familiar with every aspect of the project so that, when it finally does emerge, I can welcome it like an old friend. 

This is the positive side of procrastination. Of course, there's a negative side, too—one with which we are all too familiar. 

To me, the negative aspects of procrastination are those which hinder the creative process. Procrastination causes stress—more for some than for others. If you are not a person for whom stress is a creative stimulant, procrastination is not your friend. Also, if your focus decreases under pressure, procrastinating can lead you to make silly mistakes, and overlook technical glitches which would have been apparent had you given yourself ample time to work. Finally, if you don't have a deadline, only a desire, "leaving it for another day" can easily become "putting it off indefinitely." 

So when is it a good idea to procrastinate, and when is it not a good idea?

Only you can know that for sure, but here are some general guidelines for you. 

You might be okay to procrastinate if: 

  • You work really well under pressure
  • You feel like your idea needs more time to gestate
  • You are in the middle of birthing another creative project
     

You probably don't want to procrastinate if: 

  • Deadlines stress you out
  • You tend to make mistakes or lose focus under pressure
  • You don't have a formal deadline, or any other imperative to begin or complete a project
  • You have been "waiting for the right time" to follow a writing dream

 

Above all, when you're debating whether to procrastinate, listen to your intuition. Productive procrastination is about focus, and aligning deeply with both divine timing and the energy of the project—not chasing instant gratification or sidestepping fear. So when you're tempted to save the writing for another day, ask yourself, 

"Will stepping away right now serve my dream, or just put it off for another day?" 

Happy writing, everyone!



Bryna René Haynes is the founder and President of The Heart of Writing, the chief editor for Inspired Living Publishing, and the best-selling author of The Art of Inspiration: An Editor's Guide to Writing Powerful, Effective Inspirational and Personal Development Books.In over a decade as a writer, editor, ghostwriter, designer, and publishing consultant, she has helped hundreds of authors find their authentic voices and create powerful, memorable, successful works. She lives outside of Providence, RI, with her husband, Matthew, and their little Moonbeam, Áine.