A Procrastinator's Guide to Writing

by Lindsey Barrett

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2008

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2008

When faced with a revision due your publisher or a writing assignment that you dread (either because it requires more concentrated brain power than you can currently muster, or because the deadline looming is unreasonable in light of your mounting stack of To-Dos), do you generally get right down to the task with a cheery, "Well, there is no time like the present!"?  If so, this article is not for you.  If, on the other hand, merely thinking about the dreaded task causes your brain to freeze up like my old clutchless Volkswagen stuck midway between first and reverse, read on.

Here are five tips to help you become a master:  first, you absolutely must prioritize.  Your first priority will always be to go get another cup of coffee.  Not only does this provide brain food (caffeine), but as a bonus it consumes quite a bit of time. Make sure to run to the corner store for fresh cream (particularly effective if you take your coffee black), and announce your thoughtful gesture to your cream-loving spouse upon your return, so that he or she will know that you were thinking of them, not wasting time. Of course, this coffee-fetching itself can be developed into an art form.  

Develop a taste for double tall, nonfat, two packets of Equal, extra- chocolate and whipped cream mochas.  Not only does that consume a greater amount of time since you have to venture forth upon the mean streets for your caffeine fix, but the nonfat milk and Equal cancel out the calories in the chocolate and whipped cream.  But I digress.

Which leads me to number two: digress.  Absolutely refuse to keep the task at hand in mind for more than a few seconds at a time.  Instead, think about what you will make for dinner. Then mentally review the contents of your pantry to see if you have the necessary ingredients,  which will inevitably lead to the need to make a grocery list, which will remind you that you need to purchase Q-tips to deal with your dreadful ear wax situation.  It's so bad that you really need to go to the doctor to have your ears 

flushed.  So, of course, you need to make an appointment right now while you're thinking about it.  While you're checking your calendar you will realize that you haven't confirmed lunch with your sister, who has a real job.

Which brings us to number three: phone calls.  No matter how remiss you have been at returning phone calls, letting your voice mail messages mount up, now is the perfect time to mend your evil ways.  Call everyone you've been ignoring, and, when you're through with them, call everyone you've been avoiding.  Yes, I mean even your Uncle Bob's second cousin who is trying to sell you life insurance.  After he has you on the phone for what seems like an eternity, look up at the clock and realize oh-my-gaw, your assignment must be FedExed today and you've hardly started it yet.

After rushing Bob-Cousin off the phone with a hearty—and unexpected, in light of the lengthy pitch you've allowed—"Thanks, I'll think about it," turn back to your computer, your partially-completed assignment, and tip number four: As you begin your completion/revision, pay particular attention to the ghost-like new email apparitions that float up from the bottom right corner of your screen. Click on each and every one as they appear and read carefully, for it certainly is possible you are the one trustworthy person the wealthy Nigerian prince-in-exile can count on to recover his funds for which you will be paid a handsome reward, and surely someone has invented an effective device for increasing girth or length—no, no—for decreasing hip and thigh, and heaven knows what will happen if you don't forward the message of love and abundance to at least seven acquaintances, including your sister, Uncle Bob and his cousin, and let's see—dear me, look at the time.  

My deadline is up and I'm not finished with this yet.  Guess four tips will get you started—gotta dash!

Lindsey Barrett is currently a student in the MFA program at Vermont College and has completed the two-year fiction program at the University of Washington. Her work has appeared in publications as diverse as Cosmopolitan and Spindrift Art & Literary Journal.

Lindsey BarrettComment