This post comes from WordServe author Rick Marschall. Welcome, Rick!
There actually IS a National Procrastination Week, as most writers know. Or should know. If we didn’t know, we can count on editors to remind us. Or publishers. Or agents. Or spouses. Or neighbors and strangers who eventually figure why we small-talk with them, obsessively, at odd times.
But there is such an observance, appropriately not on a fixed date, usually in early March. If there were a day, not a week, the most ironic date would be March Fourth – because the dreaded P word has nothing to do with marching forth.
Most of us get tagged as being procrastinators. I have heard of writers who awake at, say, 7:28 every morning, commence writing at 10 a.m., take a 45-minute lunch break, and then write again until 4:30. Usually these writers produce several 900-page books a year, a fact that further confounds me. My guess is that if you are one of those writers, you spend most of your free time physically fending off attacks by crazed fellow-writers – i.e., the majority of us – who congregate at the intersection of Jealous Street and Incredulous Avenue, mumbling about you.
Over the years I have shoved out 74 books and hundreds of magazine articles, as well as uncountable scripts, columns, and blog essays. So I actually have been acquainted with deadlines, and, overwhelmingly, met deadlines.
But I write about that near-universal experience of racing the clock, if not the calendar, at deadline-time. I am wont to call them Last Writes, ha. If the profession invented the word Dead-line, then I can play with the term Last Rites. Enough puns here, because I seriously have a view about Writers’ Procrastination I never have heard advanced by anyone. It is a principle of our process, I think. Let me call this Marschall Law (Sorry, that is the last pun).
Whether we meet deadlines or barely meet deadlines, we assume guilt for the “minutes-to-spare” syndrome. Polite friends call it Procrastination; honest friends might call it Disorganization; harsh observers sometimes call it Laziness. Have you ever felt like pleading guilty to any of these? Have you ever finished a book without silently promising yourself to start earlier, write more, self-edit better, and finish sooner, next time?
Here is the realization I had. You have heard the expression, “Some people work best under pressure.” Some people do. We admire stories of Mozart and Beethoven scribbling scores, orchestral parts, mere moments before a first performance. Of Rodin leaving sculptures half-chiseled. Of Tolstoy’s first draft of War and Peace only running through Chapter 3, and his editor finding “etc…” before he squeezed the rest of the manuscript.
Actually, only the Mozart and Beethoven stories are true. (Otherwise, Tolstoy’s book would be known as War and Piece.) (That’s the last pun.) But most of us recognize that feeling. I have a view that if God, in the fullness of time, had not created Last Minutes, very little in this world would get done.
If it is true that some of us work best under pressure, I think it is logical – and, surely, subliminal – that we create our own pressure. Why do we find ourselves, say, reading instead of writing? Straightening out shelves and files when not necessary? Sharpening pencils, when we haven’t used a pencil since the first Bush presidency? Arranging our sock drawers?
Are we processing the next chapter? Reconsidering a plot thread? Praying for more wisdom (non-fiction) or killing off a different character (fiction) (I hope)?
No… we subconsciously create that inchoate factor, that diaphanous monster, called Pressure. Honestly, it is not really a monster. My best books (the most successful, or best-received, or ones I think have stood up) were produced in pressure-cooker scenarios; when I went total-immersion; when I ate, breathed, slept with The Book.
I could not have done that, in all those cases, if a date-book, instead of a Deadline Panic, had ordered my days. Panic worked, has worked, and I suspect for many creators throughout history, will continue to work. It should not change our working modes – we have all reached the limits of excuses – but can lift the guilt a little.
But somehow, I don’t think anyone will designate a National Panic Day…
Rick Marschall has indeed written 74 books and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles. Bostonia Magazine called him “perhaps America’s foremost authority on popular culture,” and trying to maintain that reputation, writes in the fields of history, biography, music, television history, and children’s books in addition to books, articles, and essays in the Christian field. He has been a political cartoonist, editor of marvel Comics, and writer for Disney. He currently is obscenely late on a manuscript, and while not making light of a writer’s responsibilities, has analyzed writer’s block and creative challenges.