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Procrastination - The Writing Center

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Barely an article. 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. Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A's in English class. There are exceptions, but they often also seem to be exceptions to the general writerly habit of putting off writing as long as possible.

At an early age, when grammar school teachers were struggling to inculcate the lesson that effort was the main key to success in school, these future scribblers gave the obvious lie to this assertion. Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks. These are the kids who turned in a completed YA novel for their fifth-grade project. This teaches a very bad, very false lesson: that success in work mostly depends on natural talent. Unfortunately, when you are a professional writer, you are competing with all the other kids who were at the top of their English classes.

As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good.

Before you take to the keys, you are Proust and Oscar Wilde and George Orwell all rolled up into one delicious package. Most writers manage to get by because, as the deadline creeps closer, their fears of turning in nothing eventually surpasses their fears of turning in something terrible.

1. The Perfectionist’s Fear

These are all college graduates who can write in complete sentences, so it is not that they are lazy incompetents. One of the best-known experts in the psychology of motivation, Dweck has spent her career studying failure, and how people react to it. And yet, as she discovered through her research, not everyone reacts to it by breaking out in hives. Dweck puzzled over what it was that made these people so different from their peers.

If he performs poorly, he can attribute his failure to a lack of studying rather than to a lack of ability or intelligence. On the other hand, if he does well on the exam, he may conclude that he has exceptional ability, because he was able to perform well without studying. They fear nothing so much as finding out that they never had what it takes. Our educational system is almost designed to foster a fixed mind-set.

You memorize particularly pithy quotes to be regurgitated on the exam, and perhaps later on second dates.

Students are rarely encouraged to peek at early drafts of those works. All they see is the final product, lovingly polished by both writer and editor to a very high shine.

How Writers Can Stop Procrastinating Forever

Or consider a science survey class. No wonder students get the idea that being a good writer is defined by not writing bad stuff. Unfortunately, in your own work, you are confronted with every clunky paragraph, every labored metaphor and unending story that refuses to come to a point. About six years ago, commentators started noticing a strange pattern of behavior among the young millennials who were pouring out of college.

Eventually, the writer Ron Alsop would dub them the Trophy Kids. This new generation was brought up to believe that there should be no winners and no losers, no scrubs or MVPs.

Who Procrastinates?

Everyone, no matter how ineptly they perform, gets a trophy. As these kids have moved into the workforce, managers complain that new graduates expect the workplace to replicate the cosy, well-structured environment of school. They demand concrete, well-described tasks and constant feedback, as if they were still trying to figure out what was going to be on the exam. When I started asking around about this phenomenon, I was a bit skeptical. After all, us old geezers have been grousing about those young whippersnappers for centuries.