Productive Procrastination

Courtesy Becky B.

One of a writer’s duties is procrastination. It’s a law of the vocation. I’ve never heard of or known a writer who wasn’t a master at devising ways to delay the act of crafting prose.

I had a professor once who warned me about the dangers of procrastination. He said it was a tempting but malignant fruit; he said it was addictive; he said it could kill creativity. He urged me to write voraciously, to write religiously, to write as if it were as reflexive and vital as breathing. He was right, of course–when the passion for crafting sentences and stories swims in your blood, you should do nothing but strive to get the words on paper or on screen.

But I have long thought–and Tom would tease that this is just an excuse, but he would partly agree–that sometimes you put something off because it isn’t quite the time to do the thing. Sometimes procrastination has a function in that it allows you to wait for the right time to get to the right thing. There’s a word for this: kairos. I came across it in a volume of Carl Jung’s letters. Jung prefaced a delinquent response to a correspondent with an apology, saying, “I always have to wait for the kairos, the right moment of time, when I am able to give a profound reply.”

Therefore it was Jung’s duty to procrastinate. And the key to waiting for the kairos, I’m sure he said somewhere–and Tom would agree–is seizing it when it comes.

I have always been desperate to write. Since I could fashion the shapes of letters with a pencil, I have been compelled to express myself with composition. Playing with words in poems, jingles, essays, emails, texts, instant messages, Facebook posts, blogs I ghostwrite, blogs I openly write, letters I mail, notes I leave, stories I type . . . is as natural as rain.

But sometimes I’m supposed to be working on one thing–chapter eight of The House on the Lake, for example–and I can’t get myself to “go to the table,” as Tom called the act of sitting down and getting done what you gotta get done. I can’t go to the table because I’m waiting for the kairos.

Often, while I’m waiting, I’ll prioritize some other deadline–partly out of devotion to my other obligations; mainly to avoid doing what I believe I was born to do. Frequently I’ll accept a freelance editing project and exhaust myself by working on someone else’s words for an entire weekend following a forty-hour work week.

But recently I’ve taken to doing something productive with my procrastination time. I’ve been optimizing The House on the Lake. Making it reader-friendly. Breaking the long Victorian-style paragraphs into readable chunks. Plunking in pull quotes that epitomize the classic/modern hybrid that is The House on the Lake. The pull quotes simultaneously optimize the online reading experience and harken back to the illustration captions in a Dickens novel, for example, which The House on the Lake aims to evoke.

Check it out–and make no mistake–me popping in these images is for sure another exercise in procrastionation, but productive procrastination, for it’s possible that I’ll lure one new reader to The House on the Lake with this post on the craft of writing. And once the kairos comes for chapter eight (that is, once I’m ready to finish chapter eight), ain’t nothin’ gonna stop me.

This illustration from David Copperfield breaks up the text, engages the reader, and advances the plot. It also highlights how important it is that artist extraordinaire John Stern creates similarly styled illustrations for The House on the Lake.

The pull quotes in The House on the Lake function like illustration captions, drawing the eye and advancing the plot.


About Erin Harris

I'm a copywriter by day and a fiction writer by night. I also write about food, travel, music, film, and much more.
This entry was posted in Art, Books, Editing, Ghosts, Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Productive Procrastination

  1. Pingback: Indecent Expectations: A Revelation « Career. Food. Environment. Stuff.

  2. Pingback: 5 Quick Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block | Erin Harris

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