by Linda Rodriguez
People have been known to ask me how I get so many different things done. After I do a double-take, trying to see who they were talking to (because it certainly couldn’t be me with the huge, never-finished to-do list), I reply that I do it by not doing what I was supposed to do.
My house was never so clean as when I was in graduate school facing studying for finals and writing long papers on the literary critical theory of Jacques Lacan—Désir! Désir is all! I have knitted innumerable pairs of socks and mittens, purses and even rugs, while delaying work on a tricky sweater promised to my husband. I wrote one whole novel while avoiding finishing one that was under contract. I get things done by doing things that aren’t the top priority on my list instead of doing that top priority. I call it Creative Procrastination.
I’m thinking about this because one of my students just sent me an abject email, beating herself up because she hadn’t been doing the work for my class, couldn’t bring herself to do the assignments, had written 2,000 words about how awful she was and how ashamed she felt for not doing them. I had to tell her that I knew exactly what she was going through, that most writers did at one time or another.
There’s this thing called resistance. It means that, even when we love our work and want more than anything to do our work, something inside us drags our feet, pulls us away, and the beloved work doesn’t get done. It’s especially a problem for artists—and even if we write commercial novels, that’s what we are. (Look in the mirror and say ten times, “You are a writer. You are an artist.”)
I don’t try to fight it anymore. I make that nasty resistance work for me. After cleaning house for a day or two, I’d get up with plans to do some more cleaning/organizing and end up working on my Lacan paper to keep from doing the cleaning I’d planned on. Halfway through the rug, I started sneaking in a row or two on the husband’s sweater as a rebellion against it. Just before finishing the last chapters of the uncontracted novel, I started being unfaithful to it with the novel under contract (and deadline). There is a method in my madness.
Along the way, I end up getting an awful lot of things finally finished—usually while rebelling against something else that I’ve set for myself to do. It may sound crazy, but it works for this aging hippy radical. For example, I was procrastinating writing this blog post, so I gave myself the assignment of writing a special handout for my class on how to motivate yourself to write and find time to do it. Sure enough, I sat down instead and wrote this post.
Now, what can I assign myself to do, so I can procrastinate by writing that class handout?