Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators — The Atlantic

I have a confession. I am a cheater.  One time in college, I was given the task of interpreting a poem without using an outside source. I was an English education major, so this was to be an assignment that I would likely give one hundred times over. Yet, I stared at that poem and couldn’t for the life of me tell you what it was about. So, I googled. It was the early 2000’s, and I’m not quite sure I was aware that I was googling.  But, I did. I turned in a paper with another author’s interpretation of the poem as my own work. And I did it because I was afraid to fail.  I was afraid that if I couldn’t do this assignment, then my whole grade point average would tank and I would be found out as the fraud I was.

The funny thing about all of this is that I was found out. And, with fear gripping me, I lied. I said that I had not done the thing that I had so clearly done. And my professor gave me another chance. She gave me a new poem to interpret as per the original assignment. And I did it and I didn’t once look anything up online. I had been discovered as a fraud once, and I didn’t think I could handle it happening again. But, in the end, I got away with my crime and even did pretty well on the next interpretation.  My facade was in tact.

When I read this article, all of those fears and all of those feelings rushed back. And it all made sense to me.  I was the kid in English who wrote her papers the night before and received rave reviews on them. I was the girl who never edited anything I wrote. I was the proof-reader for my friends. I had (and still have) built this persona of this person who knows the English language and who knows how to write well. But I don’t.  I mean, I have a pretty fair understanding of English and I think I’m pretty okay at catching mistakes and suggesting edits in other people’s work.  But, I want it to be my own work that I am pushing toward publication. I want it to be my own stories that grace the shelves of the library and bookstore.  I want people to read what I’ve written and fall in love with my characters. I want to bring the story to life.

The problem is that I’m not sure I’m capable of that. The part where the author of the article says that we’re all talented English students here and so the standards are much higher hit very close to home.  It was easy when I was in the general population to distinguish my writing as good.  But among the greats, I have judged myself as substandard and lacking, forgetting that they also had rough drafts and sloppy copies that needed a great deal of work in order to make them palatable. I forget, as I judge myself as less than worthy, that many of them were heavy smokers and drinkers and drug users, relying on these outside stimuli to reduce the pain and insecurity they felt. I cannot be at their standard because I am not them.

It’s so easy to get tied up in each word of a story and forget that there is a larger, more beautiful picture if we would only take a step back. I am me. I am sometimes good with words and sometimes the stories flow and they’re beautiful.  But most of the time, they’re flaming piles that need a great deal of finesse and attention to turn them into something palatable. And that is okay.  This isn’t English class and I don’t need to prove that I can knock out a 3 to 5 page essay in under 24 hours. Instead, I can prove that this really is my dream and I am here for the long haul.

Here I am world. The facade is stripped away and the nitty gritty is what remains. Let’s do this!

via Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators — The Atlantic.


One thought on “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators — The Atlantic

  1. I am convinced, once again, that we are basically the same person. Fear of failure is still one of the things I have to spend every single day working to defeat, and I know now that I probably never will. I know ALL ABOUT sliding through the world solely on talent. My thesis adviser in my second graduate degree was the very first person who ever told me I needed to learn how to write. The whole experience nearly broke me, and I’m still fairly certain she would take a red pen of death to anything I ever produce ever again.

    I think the current education system does us a disservice by grading us only on a series of objective outcomes rather than by how hard we work to meet them. I know people who gave their absolute all in school and barely got through, convinced they were stupid because no matter how hard they tried the system just didn’t work for them. I came out looking like the perfect intellectual, and with very few exceptions I never had to work hard on anything. I never learned how to do it. I’m still trying to learn everyday.

    I think that’s perhaps the first thing we have to learn as we try to get serious about our writing. First (or even second) drafts don’t work as completed projects anymore. Being at the head of our class in high school is very different from being a good professional writer, because the field of competitors is so much wider. We have to put forth a herculean amount of effort just to produce something readable.

    But the pool of allies is also much deeper than I ever anticipated. That’s what I hold on to when I think I should give up. There are people who want to read my writing, and so I keep pushing for them, if not for me. I think you are wickedly talented. Like me, you are at the point where you are realizing just how much WORK its going to take to make something out of yourself as a writer. Don’t give up on it now. There are plenty of people (myself included) who are just waiting to read what you have to say. So let’s go out there (or in there, whichever) and get this done! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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