Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Procrastinator

by G.M. Malliet

I happened to catch Laura Lippman on the CBS Early Show on March 15, talking with Harry Smith about the writing life. She mentioned that she writes almost every morning in a coffee shop near where she lives. She doesn't do this for the ambience, nor even for the coffee. She does this to get away from her laundry.

"The thing about being a stay-at-home writer is that laundry becomes immensely attractive and seductive," she said.

I knew exactly what she meant. I think every writer in the world, famous or no, fiction or non, gets this.

I once heard a writer say her house was never so clean as when she had a looming deadline.

Faced with a blank page that you're supposed to be filling with type, almost any other activity starts to look really good. Closet cleaning, bathroom-tile scrubbing, venetian-blind dusting, even bill paying. Of particular fascination to me--rising to nearly the same level as the siren call of the laundry--is the dusty picture frame. You may have noticed that picture frames tend to collect dust along the top, a fact that--until I hit a rough patch in, say, Chapter 13--triggered no particular alarms. But suddenly, nothing would do but that I find a dust rag and furniture polish and get to work on every frame in the room. Chapter 13 be damned, and it probably will be.

There has, simultaneously (while the dusty frame emergency was growing to crisis proportions), been a dead moth "living" in my overhead light globe ( if there is a better expression for "light globe"I would be grateful to the person who supplies it) for at least a month, probably more. Probably years.

In my moments of communion with the Muse, as I cast my eyes heavenward, I notice the corpse of him/her. This poor moth. I am never, interestingly enough, as a crime writer, moved to do anything about this. Investigate it, or something. I just sit there staring blankly upwards. To do something about it would require getting out a ladder and stuff and I really don't have time: I'm busy staring into space.

I don't know what this says about me as a writer or as a person, for that matter. I should bury the poor moth, who, after all, has harmed no one, but somehow I never get around to it.

I guess it says that I don't procrastinate just any old way. I am highly selective about my choice of procrastination activities. Unlike Joe Moore, who is clearly a highly disorganized procrastination dilettante.

Blogging might turn out to be another, powerful form of procrastination for me, but I can tell already it's going to be wa-a-a-y more fun than dusting.


Mark Terry said...

Oh, I think blogs are the single biggest procrastination method for me. Hey, I posted. Let's go back and see if anybody's responded. They did? Cool. Now I can respond to their response.

Hey, I responded on Fred's blog. Let's see if he or anybody else responded.

Hey, Lee and Toby post several times a day on their blogs, so I've got to check and see what's new...

Joe Moore said...

"I'm busy staring into space."

Hi Gin,
Actually, staring is good. I have two windows in my home office; one is covered with blackout curtains but the other opens onto my South Florida side yard adorned with palm trees and tropical stuff. I often stare out into the blue skies that we’re known for here in SF. I have a 3-gallon fish tank with a blue and red beta fighting fish. Into the tank I’ve inserted a miniature cave and other decorations that resemble the ancient ruins found in our books. The beta is named Spike, and I like to stare at the caves as Spike explores them.

I have a cat named Patio who comes and curls up in a chair near my SF window. He stares at Spike. I love to stare at Patio.

Then there are all the book shelves around my office holding not only hundreds of books but lots of mementos I collected when I used to travel as a marketing executive. There’s a small African war mask I bought in Capetown. When I stare at it, it stares back. There’s a strange looking cat with a mouse in its mouth which I think I bought in Singapore. It too stares back; the cat and the mouse. I have surrounded myself with so many interesting things to stare at while I write. But lets be clear, this is not procrastination. No, this is just what amounts to hours of staring. And staring is good.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Wish, I'd written this, but I was too busy procastinating:

Procrastinator's Creed

1. I believe that if anything is worth doing, it would have been done already.
2. I shall never move quickly, except to avoid more work or find excuses.
3. I will never rush into a job without a lifetime of consideration.
4. I shall meet all of my deadlines directly in proportion to the amount of bodily injury I could expect to receive from missing them.
5. I firmly believe that tomorrow holds the possibility for new technologies, astounding discoveries, and a reprieve from my obligations.
6. I truly believe that all deadlines are unreasonable regardless of the amount of time given.
7. I shall never forget that the probability of a miracle, though infinitesmally small, is not exactly zero.
8. If at first I don't succeed, there is always next year.
9. I shall always decide not to decide, unless of course I decide to change my mind.
10. I shall always begin, start, initiate, take the first step, and/or write the first word, when I get around to it.
11. I obey the law of inverse excuses which demands that the greater the task to be done, the more insignificant the work that must be done prior to beginning the greater task.
12. I know that the work cycle is not plan/start/finish, but is wait/plan/plan.
13. I will never put off until tomorrow, what I can forget about forever.
14. I will become a member of the ancient Order of Two-Headed Turtles (the Procrastinator's Society) if they ever get it organized.

Joe Moore said...

Sue Ann, I need some time to stare at it, but your Procrastinator's Creed is probably brilliant. :-)

Mark Terry said...

Yeah, I like your procrastinator's creed as well. See, I'm responding to your response. And I'll be back to see if you have responded to my response to my response, and any other responses anybody else made that I can respond to, and then to see if I can...

Oh hell, maybe I just need to go to Crimespace and stare at my friends. I'm sure there's a picture of Alex Sokoloff on there somewhere...

Candy Calvert said...

Mmm hmm.
Not that I ever find compulsive tasks to keep me away from the office . . . unless organizing clothing by color counts as procrastination. And the six or seven trips to Home Depot to buy bundles of wooden hangers to hang them on . . . with that special one to organize the (color-batched) purses. Or the time it takes to put matching jewelry items into snack-size zip locks and carefully attatch them to the appropriate wooden hanger.
No. Not procrastinating.
Just being organized for cruise travel.
Which is research.
And therefore related to writing.
Mmm hmmm.
Not me.

Keith Raffel said...

For me the fatal attraction is the Web. I leap on incoming emails. I follow links from the definition of some obscure word to the Wikipedia article on the 7th dynasty. Thus, I write at a local cafe where an internet connection costs $9.95. Won't pay it. Am productive.

Nina Wright said...

Dog-walking is good for procrastination, too--even if you have to borrow the dog. I've been known to walk every canine in my neighborhood; if I'm working on a Whiskey book, I can claim I'm doing research. The down side is dealing with the real reason people walk their dogs....

Mark Combes said...

Okay, that's two blogs about procrastination - so I know I'm in very good company with the Inkers!

Me? I've got a filing system on my computer that would make Dewey proud - I can find anything! And the iTunes store is a bit of a magnet for me too...

jbstanley said...

I'd write a brilliant comment here, but I can feel the damp towels in my bathroom beginning to transform themselves into cotton Petri dishes for mold growth. I gotta go start a white load...

Bill Cameron said...

Keith, I'm with you. Coffee shop where I have to pay for the internet connection. Gah!

The thing is, when it comes to writing, I'm not TOO bad on the procrastination front. I think if I actually attempted to write at home, though, I'd be much worse. The coffee shop definitely helps me focus. Plus, I'm such a regular now I rarely pay for anything anymore.

"Hey, Bill, want a cookie?" "Here's a tomato mozzarella sandwich." "Freshen up your latte?"

Then answer to all of the above is yes.

Julia Buckley said...

I have a different problem. I have a full time job that requires me to bring work home; I often barely have time to interact with my family, much less write.

And the housework with which you procrastinate NEVER GETS DONE, or at least never STAYS done. Did I mention I have sons?

My parents came today to help me out while my husband is in Argentina. They gave me a lecture about my household habits as though I were once again 12 years old. They were basically disgusted by my house. But the reality is that if I want to write I will have to sacrifice some cleanliness, and even when I'm procrastinating I tend to spend it doing work for my job rather than work for my dream or work on my house.

I would actually like a little more of that procrastination time, because that's thinking time, and it's during those dead-bug staring times that your books get planned out.

And Joe, I have a Beta fish, too! His name is Captain Jack, and, what a surprise--his bowl needs cleaning.

Karen MacInerney said...

I had no idea I wasn't the only one with the laundry problem! (Or the coffee house habit.)

Thanks for sharing that tidbit, GM!