In praise of procrastination and doubt?
I met a neighbor while coming back from my daily walk with my dogs the other day. Although we live very close to one another, we see one another rarely, just when I happen to be walking by. She was delighted when I asked about her ten day Franciscan retreat several months before. After about fifteen minutes of excitedly exclaiming about the great gains she was making in her spiritual life, she interrupted herself to ask how my writing was going.
Explaining that the first draft of my current novel will be done within the next two weeks, more or less the time I’d planned, I had laughed at myself while replying to her question. Because during this past year, there have been so many deadlines I have missed and days or even weeks when I wrote nothing.
My mental segue occurred because my neighbor had been talking about the fact that her current spiritual path lacked rules. Her growth, she believed, had happened because of the freedom gained by their absence.
During my periods of non-writing, I told her, I would get nervous and forgot what I know: “Each time I forget and read the ‘rules’ about writing, how others get their books written, I get myself in trouble.” My neighbor smiled at the comment; it was precisely how she felt about religion.
Procrastinating, missing deadlines and doubt are essential elements to the list of my very paradoxical methods for finishing novels.
Many if not most of those who opine about the craft of writing do so categorically.
Consequently, this TED talk by Adam Grant got my attention.
And along the way I discovered that a lot of great originals in history were procrastinators. Take Leonardo da Vinci. He toiled on and off for 16 years on the Mona Lisa. He felt like a failure. He wrote as much in his journal. But some of the diversions he took in optics transformed the way that he modeled light and made him into a much better painter. What about Martin Luther King, Jr.? The night before the biggest speech of his life, the March on Washington, he was up past 3am, rewriting it. He’s sitting in the audience waiting for his turn to go onstage, and he is still scribbling notes and crossing out lines. When he gets onstage, 11 minutes in, he leaves his prepared remarks to utter four words that changed the course of history: “I have a dream.”That was not in the script. By delaying the task of finalizing the speech until the very last minute, he left himself open to the widest range of possible ideas. And because the text wasn’t set in stone, he had freedom to improvise.
Lesson learned: Be careful about the rules you believe, procrastination may prove to be the best- or only- thing to do.
Doubt- lest you think I forgot, yes doubt is essential also. I need to keep the doubt alive until sure that the character will sit beside you while reading about him or her. Just as critically, I need doubt when the editor begins the critique. Is she right?