What They Said in '64
Yes, He Can!

A Significant Aspect of My Life, Explained

Megan McArdle:

Over the years, I developed a theory about why writers are such procrastinators: We were too good in English class. This sounds crazy, but hear me out.

It's sadly applicable to me down to the part where she starts talking about the current educational system: Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators

However, she doesn't mention something else that is a very significant part of the problem for me: plain old laziness.

Someone in the comments claims that writers are especially prone to ADHD, which is interesting, as I think I might come close to being classifiable that way.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I'm currently writing a paper I'm leaving tomorrow to deliver in DC. In desperation, I finally re-named it 'MaryPleaseHelpmewritethis'. Yes, I've been packing and then unpacking for ten days, but sheer procrastination certainly comes into the mix too.

Love the name. I'm sure the packing and unpacking helped you to avoid the writing. Good luck!

I didn't have a *seriously bad* procrastination problem until I gave up smoking 2 years ago. Before that, writing a paper late was writing it in a week before the conference / deadline. Now I'm writing them the night before, on the plane to the conference, on the shuttle from the airport, during someone else's paper at the conference.

How is smoking connected with procrastination? It wasn't for me. I really didn't notice a significant effect of any kind when I quit.

Very good article.

Few people like writing. But I could write while smoking. I didn't give up for years because I believed I wouldn't be able to write without smoking. I had a ritual: I sat down, lit a cigarette and then began to write. the idea of writing without smoking was unthinkable. I had some procrastination problem, but not real serious, as it evidently is now. Well now, with no carrot of a cigarette, it is all stick.

I couldn't buy the idea that people who write got easy As at school. I never got As without working hard.

I suspect I'm just lazy

I was wondering if maybe the smoking helped you focus and resist distraction. This doesn't really work with writing, but I find that in my job having some sort of not-too-attention-getting music playing in the background while I'm programming helps me to focus.

You probably went to harder schools than I did. I got easy As in English/writing-related courses, up to the point where teachers started challenging me. But my bad habits were already firmly in place by then.

As for liking writing--there are times when I'm in the groove and enjoy it, but mostly I dislike it. I started to say "hate it," but usually it's not that bad. I wouldn't do it if it weren't something close to a compulsion. I like having written.

There is a funny bit, I think by Dorothy Parker, about struggling to make herself write, producing a sentence, then going to lie down for a while.

yes, I went to hard schools. I'm not all that smart, in truth and I'm very lucky that my parents saved their money and sent us to good schools.

So we're pretty much providing examples of Megan McArdle's thesis. You learned to work hard and make the most of your natural talent. I learned ("learned") that I shouldn't have to work at something I had a natural talent for.

well, my plane to DC was cancelled so I'm still sitting here trying to write the paper - we'll see if I can get to DC tomorrow!

A mercy. This is an impressive display of procrastination.

I don't write for a living, but I like and am even proud of my writing, so fear of not producing well is not my problem.

I enjoy the writing process. I rarely have "writers block" once I have an idea or an assignment, although I usually have at some point a period of anxiety that it all won't "come together." My wife hates those moments because I become insufferable. i mean become MORE insufferable.

I'd say what slows me down the most is either pure laziness (bad habits all around) or fear of putting a lot of work into something and not getting compensated adequately for my needs. In other words, I'm kind of mercenary about the whole writing thing, given the demands of my family finances.

This mercenary tendency esp. slows me down with long projects, such as books. I have a book that is 3/4 done which I have not really had the time to finish, or have put off finding the energy to finish it. And there was a fairly prominent press who was interested in seeing it. But I knew said prominent press would compensate me with next to nothing, so I have to put "making a living" and "fulfilling my family obligations (joys)" ahead of writing the book. It never gets done.

There was once a print magazine that I wrote a few articles for that paid a typically modest sum for the pieces, although since they came to me pretty easily, the $/hr. rate was probably pretty reasonable. A couple of years ago they switched to all online. I submitted an article, which was published online, but never got payment, so a few months later I e-mailed. The editor said, "Thanks for the article., It was great. Since we've gone online, we don't pay our writers. I hope you will write some more for us." Fortunately it was an article that I had already been paid well for in another context. I'm not likely to get motivated to write for them again. There was a time in my youth when I was motivated by seeing my name in pixels or in print. Those days are gone.

I work much better with an external deadline. And I really feel bad about missing them, so rarely procrastinate until the last second.

I don't remember how I did in English class in high school, but since I was one of those top of the classers, I presume I did well. In college (at ND) I was definitely only in the middle of the pack. I was surrounded by some pretty sharp dudes.

I went to Alabama, so I was able to remain one of the smart people, pretty much, without trying all that hard--the exception being when for some reason I just didn't try. I got my definitive humbling when I gave up on the possibility of an academic career in literature and tried my hand at computer programming. I struggled to be average. Still do--it's been a tense 30 years. The engineers I worked with when I was doing software development were, as a group, the smartest people I've ever been around, just with respect to the kind of brain power that gets a high score on an IQ test.

I don't mean to understate the role that sheer laziness plays with me, btw. That's really the root of the problem. The other stuff just reinforced it.

I see absolutely nothing wrong in being "mercenary" about writing, i.e. expecting to get paid for it. You know Johnson's "blockhead" remark, right? The web has certainly made it harder to get paid.

Just found a New Yorker review of a book of essays on procrastination, in which the reviewer provides this example of one way of dealing with it:

Victor Hugo would write naked and tell his valet to hide his clothes so that he’d be unable to go outside when he was supposed to be writing.

Don't know if that'll be of any help to Grumpy, though, in her current situation.

At Detroit hoping to finish after I get to DC tonight

I'll have to wait till later to read that review but it looks like a great book. Yeah, Grumpy probably doesn't have a valet.

The internet is probably the greatest tool and enabler for procrastination ever.

By grade 4 I realised I didn't really have to work to get good grades. That came back to bite me on the bum many years later. :(

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)