Procrastination as an Extreme Sport

Much ink has been spilled in regards to procrastination: how to avoid it, how horrible and detrimental it is, people speak of it as a fierce affliction. Few people, if pressed, could give a rational explanation for their own procrastination. I have found one for myself and if you’d like to pilfer it for your own self-justification, you hereby have my permission.

Procrastination is my extreme sport.

Professor Wikipedia says…
An extreme sport is a popular term for certain activities perceived as having a high level of inherent danger.

Writing has few inherent dangers, apart from the twin specters of carpal tunnel and the paper cut. Both Goethe and Nietzsche say that we should live dangerously so, if our chosen avocation is found to be lacking in danger we find that our interest flags and we may be left unfulfilled.

One way of judging an experience is how well it converts to a story after the fact. It’s hard to make an exciting story out of getting your work done on time; the bomb squad guy has a much better story to tell at the end of the day than the office worker, even if it’s been the most productive day of the office worker’s life. The danger makes the difference. This brings us back to the topic…

I procrastinate to feel alive.

By this definition, procrastination is not just putting off work until a later time, but the act of starting work on a project at the latest possible time. When you do this, you are living on the edge of your abilities, your focus is much keener than it would be if you had the warm, soft cushion of time between you and the cold, hard deadline.

This is why NaNoWriMo works. If you had 30 days to write 5,000 words, when do you think you would start? Knowing myself, my answer is 5PM on November 30th. It’s 50,000 words because 1,667 words a day is putting you on the highwire, over lions, flaming, zombie lions.

This is the philosophy of Write or Die. The most common criticism I hear is that “I don’t respond well to punishment” or “I don’t want anything to take my words away” or “I don’t need more stress”. News flash, if you’re good at getting things done on time, Write or Die is probably not your best bet. The goal is not to hit you with a stick or steal your words, but to instill in you a sense of danger so that, in the act of creation, you can feel alive.

So my advice for you today is to know where your capabilities end and spend as much time there as possible. Find yourself a deadline and make friends with it. Don’t beat yourself up for putting things off, but revel in the adrenaline of starting something as late as you can and finishing it just in the nick of time.

Creator, Critic; Process, Product: In Defense of Writing Quickly

Recently, Ian Shine from contacted me asking for an interview. I’m not going to post the whole interview here because Ian hasn’t yet posted it on the site so if you’d like to read the whole thing you’ll either have to wait or else subscribe to the newsletter where I posted it in full. I welcome your comments.

What is the point in churning out 50,000 words without any kind of editing process?
Your Write or Die tool, like NaNoWriMo, promotes writing without procrastination. Do you think this really has any merit? All of the world’s greatest novels took years to write, so what’s the point in trying to churn out writing as fast as possible, just for writing’s sake?
If you had the apparatus to look inside the head of any creative person you would find twin beasts; we will call these the Creator and the Critic. In the well-organized mind they grow together: the more one creates the sharper one’s eye becomes to the details in the creation of others, the more one looks critically at the works of others the more one is driven to create something better. The problem occurs when the Creator sits down to create; the Critic cannot differentiate between the process and the product and therefore begins to make loud comments about how horrible this creation is and how it could be so much better.
The goal of Write or Die is to get the Critic to shut up during the process and wait for the product. A lot of people criticise NaNoWriMo, saying that it’s about nothing more than churning out reams of bilge. These people have the same problem as the Critic, they do not see that NaNoWriMo (and Write or Die) is about the process, not the product.
So, these things must be separate: Creator and Critic, Process and Product.
It’s true that most novels take years to go from inception to publication, it is foolish to argue that point. I simply posit that the answer for the writers toiling in obscurity is to first take away the toil and then tackle the obscurity. Writing Does Not Have To Be Hard. The creature inside you that makes it hard is not the Creator, it is the Critic, holding you back and telling you it’s not good enough. Make the Critic wait for the product when it can be used for things like editing, and by the time you’re ready to edit it will have plenty of things to say.