101 Excuses: The Alchemy of Procrastination
I am very well acquainted with creative procrastination. We may even be friends – we are often together for long periods of time.
Sometimes we clean the house together, although this is our least favourite pastime. We prefer to read books and articles together or to sit in each other’s company drinking tea and staring out of the window at the shifting light on the fields beyond my house and we relish listening to music as we watch the sunlight reflecting from the high moorland hills in the far distance. We are people watchers and will happily wile away our time as observers of all that is happening around us. We are fascinated by small things and will get lost in *sonder-ing. We also adore day-dreaming; staring into space as our reality crumbles away to reveal layers of other worlds and distant times that are as yet – thanks to procrastination – unwritten. We can find many ingenious ways to spend our days together, procrastination and I. Yes, we are intimate with one another and we cosy up together on a regular basis.
It has come to my attention that procrastination is unproductive. Its presence implies that I am bad at time management and suggests that I have a perennial struggle with my self-control. I need to stop putting off the task in hand. I must focus. I have to take the proverbial bull by the horns in order to make myself become the powerful creatrix that I know myself to be.
(…Just let me browse through some things first and make another mug of tea…)
Apparently procrastination is a problem. Or is it?
There is a sublime and magical process that occurs when creating something. It usually starts with a notion. A concept. Something undefined and yet with a ghost of a form. It has no outlines, no peripheries or boundaries, it has no substance … and yet once it appears it likes to linger close by. First this notion arouses my attention and then its spectral nature haunts me. I will catch it out of the corner of my minds-eye but if I attempt to look at it directly, its shadowy appearance melts away. This almost formless presence seduces me. Its scintillating fingers reach out to play with my mind. It teases and titillates me. Yet it doesn’t clamour for my attention like a hundred-and-one other things do in my day. No! It’s more subtle and persistent. It pursues me. It tantalizes and it agitates, it stimulates and excites my mind.
During this delicious time of conception the notion is no more than that. It is a burning spark of an idea, not a blazing fire. It needs time to alchemise. During the process of creative anticipation it requires time to ferment and to mature.
If I rush in and attempt to seize the notion, it will disintegrate. Because it is insubstantial, it will slip through my fingers like water, or it will take form too quickly and will become obstinate and unpliable. In its tenacity not to be captured it stiffens into the wrong shape and is stubbornly unmalleable.
And this is where procrastination plays its role in the wondrous alchemy of creation: It gives me time.
Procrastination can be hugely productive. As I do mundane chores, the notion may settle softly in my mind, germinating and taking root. As I quietly observe the world around me it feeds from all the small things that I have discerned. As I gaze out of my window seemingly hypnotised, it is nourished. It needs my daydreams to breathe, and in turn it will shape the direction of my fantasies. They are the fertile ground that nurture and cultivate the notion until it becomes something more. Something of substance. Only when it is substantial will it become strong and blossom into something fruitful. And only when dripping with ripe fruits can it be harvested. If I attempt to harvest it before it is ready it may wither and die or bear unsatisfactory and unpalatable fruit.
In other words I do not capture a concept and ‘work’ it to my own gains. It does not belong to me. It is magnificently organic and as with anything organic, it is rarely immediate. Our relationship is symbiotic; we grow together. So, procrastination is a dynamic (and usually necessary) part of the creative process. It is a crucial ingredient in the creative alchemist’s bag.
So perhaps it is time that procrastination is not viewed as a frustrating avoidance tactic or a bad habit. Perhaps it should not be considered the thief of time but as a fundamental and pivotal step in the creative process. Creative procrastination is not necessarily about self-sabotage and lack of focus nor is it a block or an obstacle to creativity. It can be an intrinsic part of the process, without which the exquisite art of creativity would become nothing more than a mechanical task to be done. Active procrastination should be embraced and used as a powerful tool in the complex alchemy of organic and dynamic creation.
(*n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk – The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.)