‘Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators’
Megan McArdle, writing at The Atlantic:
Our educational system is almost designed to foster a fixed mind-set. Think about how a typical English class works: You read a “great work” by a famous author, discussing what the messages are, and how the author uses language, structure, and imagery to convey them. You memorize particularly pithy quotes to be regurgitated on the exam, and perhaps later on second dates. Students are rarely encouraged to peek at early drafts of those works. All they see is the final product, lovingly polished by both writer and editor to a very high shine. When the teacher asks “What is the author saying here?” no one ever suggests that the answer might be “He didn’t quite know” or “That sentence was part of a key scene in an earlier draft, and he forgot to take it out in revision.”
Or consider a science survey class. It consists almost entirely of the theories that turned out to be right—not the folks who believed in the mythical “N-rays,” declared that human beings had forty-eight chromosomes, or saw imaginary canals on Mars. When we do read about falsified scientific theories of the past—Lamarckian evolution, phrenology, reproduction by “spontaneous generation”—the people who believed in them frequently come across as ludicrous yokels, even though many of them were distinguished scientists who made real contributions to their fields.
“You never see the mistakes, or the struggle,” says Dweck. No wonder students get the idea that being a good writer is defined by not writing bad stuff.
True to form, this linked article has sat in my writing queue for months and months. At first, it was because I thought I had something profound (read: mildly interesting) to say about it. Probably something about how it spoke right to the core of me as a writer and perhaps a person. I often recognize that projects are put on the back burner until the “perfect time,” which does not exist.
So the article sat. And waited. And waited. And every time I edited something to be published, I’d see it in my ‘In-Progress’ folder and think, “Oh, I should finish my thoughts on that.”
Eventually, it became somewhat of a joke in my mind. “Oh, haha, I’m procrastinating writing about the article about procrastination. That’ll make a funny story.” But, no, I don’t have any profound thoughts to share about the article except to say that you should read it. Especially if you struggle with getting words onto the page, it’ll make you feel seen and less alone trapped between your mind and your fingers.
So why am I publishing today? What finally made me get it out of the queue and onto the web? Mainly because of something Greg Morris wrote (paraphrasing F. Scott Fitzgerald) that I’d like to take to heart for this blog:
If you have thoughts that you want to express, just because others have similar thoughts doesn’t make them any less valid. I don’t publish because I want to publish things, I do it because I have something that I want to publish.
I’d been waiting to share Megan’s article because I wanted to say something different and unique to me. Instead, I waited, frozen with indecision, and said nothing at all. This blog is written first and foremost for people who like the things I like. I write what I would enjoy reading and hope others out there will find it and nod along. Saving it in perpetuity did no one any good.
So, I resolve to care less about saying the “right thing” and instead just say the things that I want to say. I may fall back into this habit, but now I have a public record to look back at and remember what this thing is for.
And the second reason I’m publishing today is that it’s Thanksgiving here in the US. And I’m thankful to you, dear reader, for finding my small corner of the internet. I’m grateful for having a place to share my excitements and frustrations and that anyone at all has cared to read. I’m especially thankful for those of you who have felt the urge to reach out — it’s really been something special to chat back and forth and get to know such kind strangers on the internet.
Thanks for reading.🧡 And have a happy Thanksgiving. 🦃🙏🫂