Is Procrastination (or in some cases, stalling) justified, or merely an act of self-preservation?
Earlier this week, I was working with a friend when he peered over at my laptop and started teasing me for the pandemonium of documents and folders spread across my desktop like scrambled eggs. I knew it could be in better order but it wasn’t until it was highlighted to me – perhaps more aggressively than I was prepared for – that I stepped out of my delusion and saw that the “organized” chaos on my screen was anything but organized. It wouldn’t take long to do some re-arranging and editing and produce a mockery-proof desktop, so I made that my morning task.*
The process became very therapeutic; deleting duplicated files and titled projects with no content. It was the easy mini-cleanse I needed after an overindulgent post-holiday slump. But as I purged through my desktop – and eventually my documents folder – I came across file after file of 3-10 lines of an idea, writing, or dialogue, and nothing more. I read files going back to late 2012, remembering these ideas that I’d had and then left, and then came back to and developed a bit, but ultimately had abandoned to collect dust, in my mind and on my hard drive.
Last year, I had an idea for a web-series, and had even written a five episode structure, excerpts of which I sent to my sister in Boston, who’d said they were funny (my sisters are my editors; if they don’t think an idea is good then bye bye). I even took pages of the structure of each episode with me to a job in Ireland and stuck them above the bedroom wall of where I was staying to scribble down more story arcs as I thought of them. About four weeks into the job, I took the papers down; for fear that someone would see them. Ridiculous. The whole reason I started writing the web-series in the first place was to have some self-written and produced work of my own to show people, as that’s essentially how I want to earn a living in the future. But I didn’t want anyone to see the scraps of an idea that was important to me, but was at that time mainly a set of unclear thoughts.
The musical parody I released last month was a big deal for me. Production started in March and we were live in the middle of June. My editor and I actually calculated that we could’ve finished all production of the video with two weeks of solid work, but (lots of) other commitments forced us to snatch odd hours together whenever we could. The hardest part of the production process wasn’t the hours of painstaking editing & audio mastering, which my partner and I had no experience in whatsoever, it was sharing the link to the video. Sitting at my editor’s laptop, I could genuinely hear my heart beating as we publicised the video. After all our work, which was difficult, but still felt so comfortable because I was working in a safe environment, it was time to let go of what essentially became this sort of creative love-child, and let it loose on the world, with no idea of what the response would be.
Creative people are always working on something; it’s amazing. Nearly everyone you talk to is writing a screenplay, or has an idea for a sketch, or wants to release an EP. But less have finished proof of their progresses. But it’s not the lack of creative potential that stops most of these ideas coming fully into fruition. If we finish something then we actually have to unleash it on the ether saying, “I made this. Please watch / read / listen to it.” What we don’t ask for is some of the unavoidable criticism that this work gets. But what is crucial to realise is that there are just too many people in the world for every single one of them to like your voice, think your jokes are funny, or genuinely believe that you really do love kale. And sometimes, even if people are entertained, they don’t want to admit it. So we let the ideas rest, until we feel more ready, and more confident. But really, we’re using this time as a blanket for our fears of judgement; time that slowly accumulates until we lose track of it, and the project itself. This is time spent waiting and hoping for a day when we’ll be able to control what people will think of our work, a day that will never come.
The opposite of stalling would be to turn whatever it is we’re putting off into a daily practice so we can start to override the part of our subconscious that wants to put it off. Our project has to be integrated into our lifestyle, like the first cup of coffee in the morning, or even better, brushing our teeth. A habit like this has to be self-formed. We’ve been told to brush our teeth from a very young age and we’re aware of what will happen if we don’t, and it’s not pretty. We have to create those kind of consequences for not working on our projects, because they are there. Postponing a project might feel safe, but it’s actually causing a delay in the realised potential of our work, and of our growth. So we have to make the work a basic necessity. If we turn it into something that would be considered out of place not to do, we reduce the apprehension that creeps in as we work through a project, so that rather than stunning us into hesitation, it serves as a prompt of our passion for what we are creating, and as a reminder that it is something that deserves to be seen to, and eventually past, its finish line.
*my desktop now looks sweeeet.