This morning, sitting at my cube reading blogs as the coffee brewed, I read the improvised life’s post “the work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”
I’m not sure where I come down on this one. Obviously sitting on-call in a cubicle 40 hours a week is not what I think I should be doing for the rest of my life, though I’ve got some clear ideas on what that is and while I’ve been taking small steps to get me from the cube-sitting to the working-for-myself part, I still have to be a cube jockey until Plan B starts to pay off. But while I am manning this cubicle, I do procrastinate by writing. So in my case the work I do while procrastinating is the work I should be doing, and I already knew that. But I’m just not sure that “procrastinating” is the right word for what I’m doing, and not just since I don’t have other work that needs to be done. (Disclaimer: At work, that is. At home, I’ve got a mountain of work that needs to be done, but I can’t do any of it from my cube).
I think that’s where the problem with the quote lies (for me, anyway) – the troublesome distinction within the quote that work equals, well, work, and procrastination is, in contrast, not productive, or more specifically contributive to work. That’s particularly problematic when you’re in a creative pursuit, like writing, because you can’t separate one from the other. Sometimes when I write I find that the words that give shape and form to my ideas flow quickly and easily, and I’m simply channeling them onto the page. That’s incredibly rare. Most of the time, I find that I stumble on kernels of ideas and those ideas take time to plant, water, and tend before they sprout, nevermind grow.
I carry around a notebook that is full of one-liners and scribbles of half-thoughts that, once fully formed, could become something, but until they are fully formed, those follow me around like my shadow. I find myself constantly thinking about how to reshape an idea, how to phrase and contextualize it, and how to convey its complexity without being overly stuffy. Perhaps a better example is the list of funny anecdotes or observations that were noteworthy enough for me to write them down for reference, if only I could fumble my way past the anecdote itself to what it is that that moment embodies. But if I sit around and stew about “What does this mean? How can I use this as a vehicle to tell some larger tale?” I’d be sitting here staring at a blank screen for the rest of my life. So I just continue on. I go for walks, go get coffee, play with Baby, make dinners, sit in my cubicle, and maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the way, I’ll figure it out and then I’ll get to use that in my writing. But, more likely, I’ll get ‘distracted’ along the way, overhear something interesting in line at Starbucks that I’ll write down in my notebook and chase that scrap instead – either because that has a faster path to my discovery of meaning or because it’s more timely or simply more interesting. The most likely reason, though, is because I’m still struggling to achieve a way to impart meaning to the previous moment. In short: it’s not helpful to sit around thinking “INSPIRATION STRIKE NOW, goddamnit!” But just because I cast that moment aside until later doesn’t make everything that happens in between the recording of the moment and the hours, days, weeks, months, or even years before it becomes something “procrastination.”
The Improvised Life did a follow-up post linking to Brain Pickings’ post on procrastination but I think that this post from Brain Pickings makes more connections for me: “We need to have wrestled with the problem and lost. Because it’s only after we stop searching that an answer may arrive.”