writer's life

Productive Procrastination

My deskWriting is fun. But like everything on earth, once you’ve made it your “job” it inevitably reveals areas that are more work than fun. For me, the revision phase of writing is that work.

I just finished two separate first drafts last month. That is two new books that granted me the immense pleasure of typing The End. It’s not exactly normal for a writer to finish two books in a month. And as exciting as that was, it means I now have no choice but to enter into the revision phase for the foreseeable future. Or, as I like to call it, the Get Your Life Together phase.

Writing, for me, is beautifully messy work. The piling on of ideas, the sculpting of concept into reality…it takes a certain “letting go” for me to craft fantasy. And it shows. My desk becomes a cluttered mess of “organized chaos” which really just translates to piles and piles of notebooks and papers. A thesaurus holds down a stack of revision notes hastily scribbled during a frantic late night writing session. A cluster of worn notebooks teeters on the edge, a forgotten friend after hours of searching for random notes I buried in whatever journal was closest over the course of three years brainstorming. It’s a tangled mess that closely resembles my own inner work space at the end of a book’s birth into the world.

But editing and revising is another monster altogether. It is analytical, logical, organized. I can’t hope to sort out plot holes and character flaws if I don’t start it with the end in mind: a clearly articulated story that will transform your everyday mess of a life into magic for a few blissful hours. This is the goal. And it all starts with a clean desk.

Cleaning my desk is step one in the Get Your Life Together Phase. At first glance it feels harder than writing a book from scratch. But, little by little, it gets done. And then, we have a clear work space for clear thinking. Next, I tackle all of the forgotten and neglected chores of a responsible human being. Namely, laundry.

Laundry has no doubt piled up IMG_2990around me while I slaved away at the keyboard and though my family is incredibly helpful and supportive, no one cherishes a love for putting laundry in its proper place. So, the sorting and stuffing of clean laundry begins. I say stuffing because I gave up folding years ago. Stuffing it into drawers is the best I can do, people. You can have wrinkle free t-shirts, or you can have a magical fantasy adventure, but you can’t have both. (Someone please embroider this on a pillow for me. Thanks.)

All of this work seemed at first like walking away from writing. It was labelled “not writing” in my brain for too long. Now I see that it, like many other seemingly random parts of my life, is just a small part of the work I do as a writer. Get Your Life Together phase is what you might call productive procrastination. I may be putting off the less desirable work to be done next in writing, but I am setting the stage for clear thinking and guilt-free work. When I sit down to my desk with no chores undone, no nagging thoughts of what must be taken care of for me to be a good mother, wife, friend, or student, then I am able to focus. And focus gets work done. It is hard for creative brains to focus half-heartedly. Multi-tasking doesn’t fly when you’re a writer, an artist, or a composer. To finish your masterpiece, you must pour yourself into it 100%. That only happens when I’m not distracted by other things like laundry.

This makes some stages of an artist’s life harder than others. For instance, writing with small children at home. When my kids were littles, I wrote late at night. It was what I did to wind down after they went to bed. While friends might sit down to their favorite guilty pleasure tv show, I was sitting down to the computer to find out what happened next in my story. It was fun and felt like my own secret life. No one else knew except my husband and I’m sure he didn’t think anything would come of it at the time. Honestly, neither did I. I was doing it for myself because I’m a writer at heart and writing is essential. I can give it up for a little while, but eventually it bleeds out somewhere or I explode.

So, I’ll tackle this phase and revise books until they are beautiful, well crafted and ready for you to enjoy. But all along, the thing that will drive me to get it finished, to get it done, will be the desire to start anew. New adventures are waiting for me. But first…laundry.


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