Culturing Creativity: Procrastinating or Propagating?
In this culturing creativity episode, we explore procrastination. Why writers procrastinate, our own personal foibles and flaws, and what you can do to stop procrastinating and start writing.
We posed the question, are we propagating new ideas, or are our excuses merely procrastination?
Ashley: Hey everyone, Welcome back to Dear Writer, this is episode 25 and it’s another one of our culturing creativity episodes. In today’s episode we’re going to be talking about procrastination and how, on one hand, sometimes it’s a great way to propagate ideas, but other times it’s just procrastination.
Sarah: That thing we all know too well.
Ashley: Yes. So I guess we should probably jump straight into it, and I think the first place to start is a little discussion about why we think people procrastinate. And I’ll limit this conversation to just as writers, rather than in your everyday life, because I feel like that’s a whole ’nother conversation.
Ashley: So, Sarah what, what do you think?
Sarah: I think there’s a couple of things like particularly relating to writing. So, there’s the frustration of sitting in a room for hours and then not getting anywhere and feeling like you’ve wasted time. So because of that, you then—rather ironically—go waste time doing something else. And, you know, there’s also the fear of not producing something. And so, then it’s easier to pretend that you’re going to do it, and you’re going to produce something, and then tell yourself that you’re too busy rather than sit and face the fear of not being able to find the words. And then also some scenes I think are much more fun to write than others. So when you have to do those parts of the book that are more like functional pieces that make the story flow, or sort of explore a certain part of the character’s life a bit more that you’re not quite so enthused about, then those pieces can be quite hard work. And so, you know, who likes hard work. What do you think Ashley?
Ashley: I was about to say, I think that part about writing functional pieces is where both of us at the moment in our ancient Greece book, where we’re just trying to set everything emotion for the exciting bit. So I definitely understand. But no, I have a, I have a very similar take on it, I think. For me, frustration is probably the biggest reason why I think of other things to do instead of writing. So I just put it off, and then put it off, and then put it off, because I hate sitting there and writing, I don’t know that one sentence and it’s taken an hour, and you’re like imagine all the other things I could have done with this hour instead of sitting here.
Ashley: Another thing I find myself doing is using the excuse of being too busy, because I am busy, but then I’ll have a bit of free time and I’m like oh but I’ve been just so busy, I probably shouldn’t write today, I’ll just put it off until tomorrow.
Sarah: I deserve to relax.
Ashley: Yeah, I deserve to relax. Or, I have this like giant pile of laundry, I’ll just do that instead, it’s definitely more important. And then I’ll, you know, go and do that.
Ashley: I also have a weird thing about how I don’t really like working alone. This sounds really weird, but whenever I write, I go and write in my writing room by myself for like a couple hours. And I don’t really like it, and I’d rather be doing things with other people, even if it’s just writing in the same room with James while he’s doing something. But that doesn’t work for me, because I get way too distracted. So I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I have to write in my writing room all by myself, but then I’m kind like oh, but haven’t seen James in a while, maybe we should just hang out instead. Or, I’ll try and write while you watch this movie, and then I end up just watching the movie and I’m like…[laughs].
Sarah: Or you’re like, I’ll try and write and sit at the table, while you’re reading your book and then they’ll start talking to you, cause they’ll forget. And then you’re like, ah, I was trying to write remember? Remember?
Ashley: We were trying to do two solitary activities together. So, so those are the reasons, or at least those are the reasons I probably procrastinate.
Sarah: I think also, you know, is that… not feeling like you have enough time when you sit down. I do that so often where it’ll be after dinner and I’ve already procrastinated a little bit. I’ve, you know, mucked around on my phone and then I’ll be like, oh now there’s only half an hour to our usual TV watching time. Half an hour, I’m only really going to be able to research like one or two things, and I’m not going to be able to do any writing at all, so. You know what? I’m just gonna listen to music.
Sarah: Yeah. So I find that also.
Ashley: This isn’t it doesn’t in our show notes, but I thought I’d bring it up anyways because it seems like an opportune moment to bring it up. So I was reading some other blogs and reading some other papers, and I saw this one person who had like written an article about why they think writers procrastinate so much, and they decided that it was because writers are the ones who aced English class without having to try.
Sarah: That’s hilarious.
Ashley: So they’re not used to having to put in any work into writing, and they just used to coast on natural ability. But now that you’re an actual writer, you’re competing with other people who also have a natural ability in writing, so you actually have to put work into it. And I was like, that’s quite an interesting thing, but I don’t think I was… I didn’t easily ace English, though, so I don’t know that—
Sarah: Says the person who got distinction.
Ashley: I worked very hard English.
Sarah: Yeah. I got the highly commended to Ashley’s distinction.
Ashley: To be fair, I didn’t even get an excellence, and it was only because the girl who was top in class accidentally failed one.
Sarah: I think I, I did but… in the creative writing funnily enough, I got excellence. But, I don’t think the internal credits counted the same or something, I don’t know. It was probably because I didn’t even try with one of them. It was like, interpreting what it… what was that one, you know how you have to like interpret all the—?
Ashley: Oh, the text one?
Sarah: Yes. The short text. Yeah. I didn’t like the short text. I just couldn’t even be bothered. I was like, you know what? I’m going to focus on the essays, and that’s going to be me.
Ashley: I think essays are a lot more valuable anyways, learning to essay write, because you have to use it so much more in university anyways.
Sarah: This is true.
Ashley: Rather than… I always felt like in the unfamiliar text, there we go.
Sarah: Yeah that’s it, that’s what it’s called.
Ashley: Just came back to me suddenly.
Sarah: I didn’t like texts that were unfamiliar.
Ashley: I felt like half the time I was just making stuff up.
Sarah: Well, that was the thing, and I was like what’s the point? I could make up some stuff, but it just felt like, I don’t know. It just felt like I was, you know, wasting—funnily enough, in this topic about procrastination—like I was wasting time that was better spent pondering…
Ashley: Pondering essays?
Ashley: That’s really funny. Well it… I feel like it was, cause you sit there, you read a few texts and you’re like, hmm.
Sarah: Cause you had one more merit than me, that’s right. And that merit came from unfamiliar text. Harking back to the old days.
Ashley: Yeah. I didn’t like unfamiliar text. Anyway, we should bring it back to the podcast now that we’ve gone way, way off track. There was a point that this person had said, that they thought it was because writers aced English, and weren’t used to having to work hard, so procrastinate a lot.
Sarah: Interesting theory.
Ashley: I don’t know how I feel about that theory, I can see some aspects of it, but…
Sarah: Yeah. I don’t really think that’s the reason.
Ashley: No. Perhaps—I’m going to segue into the next section—also in my research, a lot of more informed articles, using a lot more like peer reviewed research, tended to say that the reason writers specifically seem to procrastinate an inordinate amount of the time is because they have, it’s mostly because of fear. And to two particular fears; one is the fear of producing something that’s not good, and two, the fear that they aren’t good enough as writers. What do you think about that Sarah?
Sarah: So, I do think fear is a major reason for any type of procrastination. Actually, when I was doing a paper on psychology, our psychology tutor brought that up as a thing, so. I trusted her. Considering she had a degree in psychology, I figured that was a good reason to trust her on that thought. But, yeah. I think that fear does come into play, and for me, I guess, you could say it’s a fear of not producing something that’s good, but I think rather than comparing it to other standards of what I think is good, it’s comparing it to my own standards. Like I’ll be like, oh. you’ve done much better work than this in the past, Sarah, what are you doing? And yeah. If I sit down to read, and I feel like it’s really terrible to read yesterday’s stuff that I wrote, then it’s also the fear of having to delete the hard work that I’ve already put in, as well. So I’ll read over it then I’ll feel really discouraged, and then I’ll fiddle around with it for like an hour or sometime and not really get anywhere with it. When what I really should be doing is moving on and fixing it later because nine times out of ten, I don’t need to delete the whole thing it’s just a couple of sentences that don’t quite fit which are making me feel really bad about it. And so, once I’ve fixed those sentences which takes me like, you know, several hours because I’m editing. Then I’m like oh yeah it’s not so bad, and then I can write again, but really I should have just ignored it and continued on writing, and done all of that later with the editing because it’ll probably, you know, need to be edited again anyways, so.
Ashley: Be changed anyways.
Sarah: Yeah, so it’s not particularly productive. I waste a lot of time on those few sentences.
Ashley: Oh no. I know the feeling, I know the feeling. Where you’re like, oh I just don’t like how this one sentence sounds, and you get hung up on it for ages and ages. And then I’ll send the chapter to you, and like highlight the bit that I’m not… like don’t like. And you’re like, oh I thought it was fine. And then [I’m] like ah, maybe it was fine this whole time. I think we both did that this past week as well.
Sarah: Yes, yeah. And then, you know, you think you’ve got it perfect and it’s not perfect anyways. You send it through and then you’re like, oh that whole first sentence mentions this word twice or whatever and… Like it’s so, like, minor. But, it bugs me, bugs me. So, do you have particular fears related to your procrastination? I mean, asides from that, or?
Ashley: For me, I don’t think I… it’s not really either of those two fears that I would say drive my procrastination. However, I do think I have other fears that do. So, I think the reason that, you know, the fear of producing something that’s not very good or the fear that we aren’t, like I’m not a very good writer, that isn’t really something that crosses my mind. Mostly, I think it might be because writing’s like my side thing. I’ve chosen to do it, and I’m doing it more as I guess a hobby and something that I enjoy doing. So to me whether I’m good or not at it isn’t really a factor, because I’d probably be doing regardless of that. And second, I’ve learned a lot through my job that some people might not like my writing. And that’s fine because other people will like it, so I already have quite a lot of, you know, feedback and I kind of understand that it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste anyways, so. And it’s all subjective, so I kind of don’t have that aspect of fear, however, as you probably will be able to interpret from some of my previous comments I hate working by myself and working alone, so I think that’s probably one thing. And writing’s quite a solitary pursuit, you know, normally. So I think it’s one of those—maybe not at the forefront of my mind—but it’s one of those things where I am always you know, conscious about whether I’m just going to become a weird recluse. Never see the light of day, hiding in my little room.
Sarah: Yeah, I have that too where some days I’ll be like, oh I’ve been upstairs in my office all day. Like today, Dan hasn’t seen me at all, basically. Started this podcast and he’s like, when are you going to be done? Oh, you know, probably around four-thirty. See you then.
Ashley: And you’re like, we’re in the same house. That’s probably what I’d say is mine. So I do think fear is a reason, but I think everyone’s… whatever that fear is will be different for a lot of people, I think. That kind of leads nicely into when you procrastinate, what does it look like for you Sarah?
Sarah: I am pretty typical with my procrastination habits. Instagram, Facebook, YouTube. Because often I’ll get as far as sitting down to write and then I’ll, you know, I’ll sit there wriggling around for a couple of minutes in my seat, and nothing’s coming, and then I’ll be like, well maybe I need to do a bit of research. But when I got the internet, I don’t actually necessarily research, and I go on to like YouTube or something, or Facebook, and go my phone for a bit. So I’m pretty bad at that, but also rereading pieces or even completely different pieces of writing to try and convince myself that I actually can write. and. Listening to music to ‘inspire me’, in quotation marks. So what do you do Ashley?
Ashley: I make tea all the time. I like, get down, I’ll sit down to write and I’m like, actually you know it’d be really good right now? Tea. Go back, make tea, come back and then I like haven’t read anything, and I’m like hmm, then just drink my tea while I do research again. Which I often, to be fair, do research things. But they’re usually very unproductive. So irrelevant.
Sarah: Maybe this will come in handy, one day.
Ashley: One day.
Sarah: If we ever need to include, dot, dot dot.
Ashley: The other day I was really curious about… I think it was Crete for some reason. I didn’t need to know anything about Crete. Yeah, so I just went down this Crete rabbit hole, but annoyingly, I couldn’t find a lot about Crete. So then, of course I couldn’t cursory, like couldn’t find a whole lot. So I was like, well. Now, I need to like actually research. And, you know, opened up the university database and then I’m like, what am I doing? And my tea was empty, and then I was like, I need more tea. It’s an endless cycle, but I also, I also reread pieces of writing as well. But not for any real reason, I don’t think. I don’t usually go and read other bits, it’ll usually just be the chapter I’m writing, but over and over and over and over. I’ll just keep rereading it, I’m like this isn’t helpful to anyone. Because then I’ll start editing it, which is the next problem.
Sarah: Yeah, that’s what I do. I can’t leave them alone.
Ashley: My other thing is I always clean. Laundry and the dishes for some reason are my thing. Hanging up laundry. I’m like oh, I need to hang up laundry and it takes me like forty minutes because I have to like group by size, and like hang everything up, so I don’t know.
Sarah: I procrastinate with cleaning as well, so I don’t generally have that issue. Everything’s always just a mess and then. And then I’m sitting down not doing anything, which is why I sometimes feel guilty for sitting down not doing anything. and. I feel like I’m procrastinating with one or the other, who knows which one I’m actually procrastinating with.
Ashley: Okay, so. When I… doing through [sic] my researching for this episode, I came across the fact that procrastination may not always be a bad thing. And in fact—relating this to our book—the Greeks and Romans regarded procrastination very highly, and often wouldn’t make a decision until the last possible moment so they could, quote unquote, ‘think about it’ for as long as possible.
Sarah: I’ll think about it.
Ashley: Anyway, so since then, scientists have categorized procrastination into two groups; active and passive. Passive is the one where you sit around and don’t do anything, which obviously is a problem. However, the other one is active procrastination, which is when you’re procrastinating while purposefully choosing to do a different, quote unquote, ‘productive’ task. So things like cooking or cleaning instead. Do you find yourself doing this and do you think you benefit from this and you’re writing in any way?
Sarah: So definitely, like I mentioned the music to again in quotation marks ‘gain inspiration.’ And though sometimes I listen to it for way too long, it does sort of work. And if I let the writing sort of sit for a while, sometimes it’s more that I need to regain energy to be able to write and regain motivation. Because when I’m excited and highly motivated, I tend to produce really good work. So, sometimes if I’m really tired I won’t write but, you know, doing things like listening to podcasts or reading books on writing, they all make me just want to sit down and give it a fresh go. But you do have to have a point where you stop internet surfing or whatever else you’re doing because too much procrastination doesn’t help. And, I do think deadlines can really help, as well. Because I was sort of the type to procrastinate with schoolwork and the extra pressure kind of helped me focus. And mostly it was better work than if I had dribbled it, you know, a little bit here and there. So, allowing yourself to procrastinate and creating a deadline, and maybe using either positive or negative reinforcement to help reinforce that deadline can work quite well, if you’re that type of person, I think. What do you think Ashley?
Ashley: Yeah ,I think actively choosing to procrastinate—not when I just sit there and do nothing—has its benefits. So I always find that ideas for things or how to get unstuck come when I don’t expect them, which is also why I carry a notebook everywhere I go. So when I force myself to write, it’s usually not my best work, although I do try, I often force myself to write though just to make progress. Otherwise I feel I’d get stuck a lot, so I do force myself to write. However, when I am doing other things, often that’s where I find some of the answers to my writing problems. So, doing things where my mind can just wander on its own. I guess, like monotonous things. So one of the things where, weirdly, I get a lot of ideas is in the lab. So we have this purification technique called flash chromatography. Where you pretty much just fill a giant glass tube up with it’s like, kind of like a resin, and then you put your compound at the top. And you use a pump, and you push your compound through, slowly, and eventually it separates and purifies. But all you do is pump your thing through, and collect little tubes of it, and then test it just to see if your stuff’s in there. It takes between an hour and three hours, and all you do is sit there monotonously, like filling a tube, testing, filling a tube, testing it. So I find that often I get a lot of ideas, because my mind can just, you know, wander off on its own, do its own thing and start to think about whatever problems I’ve been having recently. So I think that’s good. I think that’s also why laundry and dishes are my procrastination method, as well. Because you don’t have to think about it really, just kind of do it and then your mind can wander on its own. Yeah. I think that kind of procrastination’s okay. Also in moderation, though, I do find myself procrastinating and doing columns all the time when I don’t really need to. And it’s also the thing I hate doing the most, it’s like this one of those weird things where I hate doing them but I always do them, because there’s always one that can be done. So we briefly mentioned before, that we often research or reread or edit things when we’re procrastinating during our writing, do you think this actually has some benefits? Or do you think it’s just procrastination.
Sarah: I do think it does have some benefits, but I think the trick is to stay focused on the thing that you’re searching for. If you let yourself wander too far and research you’re going to be there all day. That’s kind of been my experience.
Ashley: Yes, me too.
Sarah: Yeah, I mean like, it’s hard because sometimes when you’re researching you can find just totally random pieces of information that can actually really add to the book like something funny that you hadn’t expected. But then, you know, you still have to think about it within reason and, I guess if you know at least the direction of what you’re searching for, then you might find those things anyways. What do you think, Ashley?
Ashley: I would agree, I know the researching one’s definitely one where you can find yourself going way off track, and very easily too. You see that one interesting thing you’re like oh, hello, you’re interesting. And just continue on, and on, and on, and on. And then a couple hours later you’re like where has all the time gone?
Sarah: That leads very well into the next point; ways to stop procrastinating.
Ashley: It does.
Sarah: How do you stop procrastinating, Ashley? When you reach that point in the internet where you’re like, I have now reached the dark side of YouTube.
Ashley: To be honest, I usually turn off my computer and go do something else, and then return and to tell myself no more researching, because this is where you ended up. I usually take it as a sign that, you know, that moment wasn’t the time to be writing. It’s probably not the best way to go about it, but then usually I can, to be fair, this was yesterday, and then I stopped and I was like this is way too much, like why am I doing this? I went and helped my mom make dinner, I went back and then I wrote 400 words, so.
Sarah: Oh nice.
Ashley: I think it was in the end beneficial, but at the time, I was like, why am I here? How have I got to this point in life? Anyway so, usually though, I will take myself to my writing room and I often don’t have my phone with me, as well, so that helps to an extent. I’ve said once before this podcast I’ve tried the no internet thing but that’s a problem. When you have an ancient Greece novel, it’s required. So I’ve learned that that doesn’t really help. I have a, well a loose schedule, I usually always write in the evening around like nine-thirty, so that helps as well cause I’m like, oh, you know, say it’s like a like a quarter to nine and I’ll be like oh, maybe I could fit something in was James and then I’ll go write. So that helps as well, having like that time set. And I also have deadlines, like you sort of mentioned before, although I have… I don’t know if it’s a good thing, like looser deadlines. So like, say however many thousand words, by the end of the week rather than a per day limit. The per day limit I find too stressful and I’m too busy, like I’m quite busy during the week so sometimes it’s like not physically possible for me to get it in every day. On Tuesdays I have Rangers and I don’t get home till nine, so I don’t eat dinner to like nine-thirty or sometimes quarter to ten, and at that point there’s no way any writing’s getting done. So I allow myself for a little bit of leeway, because you have week targets, which I think helps somewhat. Although I also find that when Sarah gets productive, it helps me then get productive.
Sarah: Yeah, I also find that. I’m like, oh Ashley’s nearly finishing her chapter. Get going, Sarah. Got to catch up.
Ashley: It’s helpful.
Sarah: So having a writing buddy certainly helps.
Ashley: Yes. What about you?
Sarah: So, I try to tell people I’m writing. Like if a friend is texting me, sometimes I’ll be like oh, this is my writing time actually, at the moment I don’t have any other time in my day today that I can write. Can I text you back another time? Because otherwise I just, you know, I’ll read it, like a sentence, and then another text will come and then I’ll respond to that, and then another sentence, and then another text, and it’s just really distracting. Like I don’t mind too much it’s like an actual conversation that is, like a focused conversation of oh, by the way, I wanted to let you know dadadadada or whatever with like a friend. But if it’s like, hi how are you? I’m like, I’m great…
Ashley: You’re like, I’m fine but I’m writing right now.
Sarah: I don’t really want to talk right now. So people may notice, even on Instagram if I don’t respond, sometimes it’s because I am very busy, and I am writing, and I’m trying not to look at my phone. I usually do respond eventually, just might not be that day necessarily. But yeah, I also try to choose a time when I know it’s going to be quiet, like mornings work quite well for me if I can manage it. Especially because that New Zealand, where my friends are still located, is asleep in the morning, so I’m like great, I’ll get everything done. And then, you know, people want to chat whatever in the afternoon it’s not such a big deal. But, you know, I think a lot of people take that kind of approach to their writing, where they’ll either write late at night, or like super early in the morning to avoid those interruptions, can be quite helpful. I’m also thinking about… so I don’t know if you’ve heard about those apps where you can get, where it gives you like an allocated time period for certain apps, and then it locks you out of the app?
Ashley: Oh! No I haven’t heard of that.
Sarah: I’m not entirely sure, like other people can probably tell me more about it, but I’ve heard of them, and it just occurred to me when I was writing the notes for this podcast, that might help a lot for me. There is also another app that I’ve heard, which I don’t think I could really use, because I think I will find it way too stressful, but I have heard of one that if you don’t write so many words per like minute or whatever, it starts deleting your words as you write.
Ashley: What? Oh my gosh, that is very stressful.
Sarah: I can’t remember what it’s called. But that kind of technology does exist, and some people find it quite helpful. So if you procrastinate, maybe that might work for you.
Ashley: It’s giving me anxiety just thinking about it!
Sarah: Yeah, I’d write something and then I’d like panic, and not be able to think of the next sentence. And then it would delete it.
Ashley: I’d have to copy and paste everything into like another thing. Be like, oh my God.
Sarah: I’d just panic too much. But, it could be an option for, for other listeners out there.
Ashley: Maybe. If you’ve used them, let us know.
Ashley: Anyway, was there anything else you wanted to add?
Sarah: No, not that I can think of. Yeah, so I think that’s all we really have time for today, could talk about procrastination for ages. Procrastinate by talking about procrastination. But we should probably move on.
Sarah: So, there’s still some spots left on our author spotlight section. So if you go to our website at www.lindersoncreations.com, and then go to the podcast it’ll be under ‘Be Featured on Dear Writer’ and it brings you to a form to fill out. So you can apply using that, it just helps us know a little bit more about you, and yeah. Please do apply, because we, we love talking to people.
Ashley: Yes, we do.
Sarah: So fun.
Ashley: Always so interesting, learning about other writers and their journeys. I like it a lot, so please apply, and have a chat with us. Anyways, if you would like to know more about us and our writing projects, you can visit us on lindersoncreations.com, or get in contact with us over Facebook or Instagram, which is also under the handle @LindersonCreations. If you enjoy the show, please rate and review us on your podcatcher of choice, and we’ll be back next week. Happy writing everyone.
Leave A Comment