The Art of Beneficial Procrastination

Posted by on Jan 8, 2014 in Creative Writing | 0 comments

The Art of Beneficial Procrastination

So in this blog, I’m going to expound upon a tiny point that Allen Ivers made in his interview. If you missed it, check it out here. What I want to focus on is this particular statement in which he refers to his favorite project…

I’ve been writing it for going on seven years. I’ll bury it as a dead idea, and sixteen months later, when looking for something new, a thought occurs – I should resurrect that.

Allen has been working on this project for seven years. And he’s not that old. That’s like 28% of his entire life. What it shows, however, is that we as writers often have an idea that just won’t go away. And while that’s a bad thing when it comes to things like rashes and deadbeat roommates, it can be a very good thing when it comes to a complete, well-rounded story.

I’ve been around many writers whose entire focus was the story’s end game. “Gotta get this done. Got to finish so I can get it published by the spring so my CV looks better when I apply to jobs over the summer. I have to get this story DONE so that the story is DONE because I need to be DONE.” We can spend so much time fixating on the finished product that we’ll forget to enjoy the ride our characters take us on while it’s happening.

Now obviously what I’m about to say doesn’t apply if you have a firm deadline. If your publisher wants the draft by the first of the year, you best get it to them by the first of the year. If your play is being workshopped on Thursday, you probably should have a play for people to read by Thursday. But if it’s just a grand idea that you have – the kind of idea that occasionally makes you stare off at a hill in the distance for ten minutes as you work out connections, dialogue, and plot points, what’s the damn hurry?

Most times in life, procrastination is an ugly word that implies laziness. But that extra time can be an amazing thing for your story. A writer like Allen who keeps revisiting a particular idea now has seven full years of emotion, understanding, knowledge, and life experience woven into that particular script. Due to Allen’s own journey through life and time, his characters pick up traits that he couldn’t have accurately written about when he first opened the document and wrote FADE IN. Those characters are richer seven years later simply because if he’s mentally aged as he should’ve, he’s become a more nuanced human being capable of producing a more nuanced story.

My mom has this ancient crockpot. It’s got these weird one-eyed birds on the side of it, which I’m pretty sure means it was crafted before the world discovered vanishing points. She’ll throw a roast in there sometime around the Fourth of July in anticipation of the family coming over for Christmas. And I’m not sure what happens inside that magic cauldron, but that roast is so juicy and succulent that it causes me to say the words juicy and succulent out loud in front of other human beings. It’s the complete opposite of what I’ll do with the leftovers she sends home with me. Those I’ll throw on a plate, zap with microwaves and ninety-three seconds later I’m watching hockey.

Some ideas are just crockpot ideas. (Read that carefully. I said crockpot ideas, not crackpot ideas. Crackpot ideas should be scrapped immediately.)

Unfortunately, a lot of writers run across a crockpot idea and think they’ve failed. They think that because they don’t immediately have all the answers available that the idea is futile to pursue. And it might be. At that particular time.

That doesn’t mean, however, that two years down the line you won’t be riding the bus and suddenly struck with a totally plausible way to get Dennis the Elf from one side of the canyon to the other. But if you’ve cast off the idea itself as a failure simply because it wasn’t going to be done before a self-imposed deadline, Dennis might be stuck on the wrong side of The Great Chasm of Glorgisballs forever. And trust me, he won’t be happy about it. Then you’ll have to face more than Dennis’s immobilized rage. The bigger issue is that you’ll never get to write the grand scenes that inspired you to put Dennis on the edge of the cliff in the first place.

Some characters need to grow. They can’t be told what to do – they just have to evolve on their own. While your characters are fictional, I’m assuming that you aren’t. And since they, in essence, are a part of you, there are indeed stories and characters that you just aren’t able to make whole for weeks, months, and sometimes years. And the great thing about it? This is ok.

At any point, I probably have six to ten unfinished projects in various files on my computer. Right now I have a quirky comedy about some Georgia chicken farmers raising a Velociraptor that’s been waiting around for page 27 to appear for going on three years now. I have the characters, the feel, the setting, and the setup. I just haven’t yet figured out what’s going to happen past a certain point. But one of these days I will. I’m confident of it. Because the story is always lurking there somewhere in the backwaters of my mind. I know that sometime in the near future I’ll be on a long car ride, or in the shower, or in the middle of a set of pushups and I’ll go, “Well there it is.”

I guess I could force it. I could get it done for the sake of getting it done. But in that scenario, it wouldn’t end up as the story I want it to be, so I guess it wouldn’t really be finished anyway.

So feel free to procrastinate on occasion if the situation warrants. Just because an idea needs some time doesn’t mean it’s a failure. It just means you care enough to do it right.

Don’t worry. Dennis will wait. He’s a patient elf.

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