Lessons From Procrastination

In an effort to avoid writing the last 25,000 words of my first novel’s first draft, I was on Twitter, because Twitter is my favorite procrastination tool.  Though I have a love-hate relationship with that little blue bird/chip on my shoulder, I discover something almost every time I’m on it.  It’s how I found my internship at Mommyish.  It’s how I came to contribute to Huffington Post Live.  It’s how I learn things about myself.

This one particular tweet started this week’s lesson learned from procrastinating:

Michelle was actually being really funny when she said this but anyone who follows her blog knows she has a valid point.  She’s very funny in person, but her posts are deep, serious, and somber.  None of them have ever made me want to slit my throat, but behind the humor I understood what she was saying.  She didn’t want to be seen as just one aspect of who she really is.

A few minutes later I got an email from a friend with a story that blew me away.  The writing was so intense and lyrical.  It was some of the best work I’d ever read and it was just a first draft/”brain dump” story.  I know this friend well enough to know she has far more going on in her life than the descriptions (no matter how brilliant they were) in this piece.  In fact, I don’t see her that way at all, but I could feel it in her writing.  By writing it down, she declared she wanted to free herself from the picture pained in those words, rather than freezing herself in them.  It was real, but it wasn’t her – not anymore.

After Michelle’s tweet and this email I saw very clearly that I am struggling in the same way.

On Monday, my words will be published elsewhere (I’m too superstitious to reveal where, but you should know in less than 24 hours *knock on wood*).  Those words are sad and heavy.  There is no humor in that piece.  I worry that people will think these words define me.  That they will believe they are coming out of my mouth as they read them.   They are not.   I wrote that piece almost five months ago, but even if I had written them yesterday, they are not ME.

Natalie Goldberg, author of the amazing book, Writing Down the Bones, describes her experience with the phenomenon I fear:

I have a poem entitled “No Hope” – it’s a long poem.  I always think of it as joyous because in my ability to write of desperation and emptiness I felt alive again and unafraid.  However, when I read it, people comment, “How sad.”

I understand the compulsion to say “how sad” and I welcome any response that my writing might evoke.  I just hope you’ll understand the words do not define me, instead they liberated me from the place where I was stuck.  I hope tomorrow when you read my heavyhearted post, you can take something away from it other than, “that’s sad for Carinn.”

If you haven’t read Writing Down the Bones, I highly recommend it.  Among so many others, it contains these words I live by in my writing life:

Don’t identify so strongly with your work.  Stay fluid behind those black-and-white words.  They are not you.  They were a great moment going through you.  A moment you were awake enough to write down and capture.

I love hearing the phenomenal stories of others, even when they aren’t all about poopy jokes and wine at the end of a long day of whining.  I’ve never mistaken those stories for the people behind them.  I can only hope the same for me, because I love sharing my stories and can’t imagine stopping.

After I’m done procrastinating, of course.

8 thoughts on “Lessons From Procrastination

    • Isn’t it amazing – how universal these feelings are? I mean from the outside your writing is so prolific that I might think you never felt this way. It goes to show you, none of us are immune. We are all in this together.

  1. I think when someone writes sad or heavy when they are usually light or funny, it shows a range and depth of emotion, particularly when it’s done well. Since I don’t write light or funny well and the bulk of my posts are pretty heavy, I feel like people will think the happy or funny emotions aren’t genuine so I scrap nearly every attempt before it sees the light of day.

    I love the quote you put in here about the words being a great moment.

    I can’t wait to read your piece tomorrow.

    And for what it’s worth, I almost never talk about what I post about in person. In person I just talk too much and some of it is even pretty amusing.

    • Me too – I never talk about what I write. It’s almost awkward because then I have all these stories that I write and people are like – who is this girl? That’s not the girl we had brunch with! I think the happy and funny would come across as genuine – give us a shot!!

      • I think, in comments, I give the impression that I am funny. I am not funny. At least, not when I’m not trying to be, and then, well, it falls flat. I am occasionally witty but when people visit the blog and I’m all woe is me most of the time even when I try not to be heavy, they’re all, you’re a clown fish, tell us a funny joke.

  2. Ah, to think the words aren’t me. It is a nice thought, one I’d like to believe in one day. For now, though, I’m afraid I am they; they are me (well, at least to a degree. I mean, I’m not surly EVERY day.)

    • No way. I knew you for 1 hour at BlogHer and I knew your words weren’t you. First, up on that podium talking about Trayvon and then in the small intimate room talking about Chipotle. You are you and you have full command of the words to express it.

      Or if you do identify with them, it’s not in a way that freezes you or pigeon-holes you. You’ve got those words by the balls woman.

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