Why Do I Procrastinate?

I ran across an online discussion today addressing why we procrastinate as writers. My comment went on so long a realized that this was something I should address on my blog. So here goes.

I spent 20 years procrastinating in regards to my writing. Hell, I spent nearly 50 years procrastinating if you start counting from when I determined that I wanted to write historical fiction until the time I successfully published my first novel, Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery.

What I find interesting is that in general I am not a procrastinator. I learned in 4th grade (best grade school teacher ever) that the students who buckled down and did their work first thing ended up with plenty of guilt free time to goof off, and I have pretty much applied that concept through the rest my life as a student, a college professor, a mother, wife, and friend. Not as a writer.

The only area of my life where I procrastinate regularly is as a fiction writer. I think that this is because writing fiction is absolutely personal-it is just for me. In all those other areas of life I have been motivated in large part by my sense of responsibility to others (to make my parents proud, to be the best professor I could be for my students, to take care of my family, and be there for my friends.).

When I do a good job (ie don’t procrastinate) my reward, in my mind, has always been to give myself permission to read fiction (ie goof off.) But even there I was careful not to start a good book unless I knew I could finish it before the next task in my “real life” came due. I was always worried that my pleasure in reading would distract me from my  responsibilities!

Only twice in my life as an adult did I let what I wanted come first for an extended period. The first time was when I was 23, and I quit my first boring job and for a solid year just read (the new feminist body of work was just coming out at this time and I devoured it). This led me to the decision to get a doctorate in history, with an emphasis women’s history.

The second time came when I was 38 and had left my tenured track job in Texas (oh those good old boys were too much for this feminist to take) and I faced the possible future of being a part-time adjunct teacher for the rest of my life. I decided if this was to be my fate, then I was justified in taking the time to fulfill my life-long dream of writing fiction. Oh the bliss! Six months of writing my mystery, my husband at work, my daughter in day-care. But then I got a full-time job at the local community college, and I no longer put myself and my writing first. That book never got published, and I stopped writing anything new.

So now, retired, my daughter grown with children of her own, my husband happily working on his own writing, I have finally put myself first. I rewrote the first mystery, published it, and I now spend day after day writing the sequel. I can spend the hours it takes to let my mind run free (and perhaps even not hear when my husband says something to me-cause I am off in that world of my own.) I can decide to go back to writing after dinner, rather than use that time to make call backs to friends. I can be selfish (listen to the pejorative term I am still using!)

However, I think in writing this I have just had a revelation. When I “procrastinate” by checking my email, or commenting on someone else’s post, or writing for my own blog, it is not because I enjoy these activities more than I do working on my book. It is because these activities are more other directed. I feel more comfortable doing these things because they help other indie writers, or because they will help sell my book (and produce the income needed to keep the family budget healthy).

I don’t think that this is necessarily a totally gendered response. Goodness knows male writers have put paid employment, in order to support their families, above their desire to write for centuries. However, until recently, most women didn’t even see there was a choice. Other responsibilities, financial or not, always came first. And I think that I often procrastinate as a writer because I haven’t yet entirely thrown off the belief that if I do something, just for myself, I am not being a good person.

So, how about you? Why do you procrastinate?

And while you think about it, I am going to go write a couple more paragraphs on my next novel, selfish person that I am!

This is a reprint from M. Louisa Locke‘s The Front Parlor.