On doing the work. Or not

I’m at the coffee shop and I’m supposed to be working on this book. I like the coffee shop because I can’t do my laundry here, or wash the dishes, or alphabetize the spices, all things I’ve been known to do when I should be tackling the work.

But the work is hard and I wish I were a millionaire. Why didn’t I invest in Microsoft way back when? I abandon the work to try to find out what the share price of Microsoft was in 1990, when I first had a glimmer they might be important to the future.

Then I realize one of my fingernails needs to be filed. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t write if one of my fingernails needs to be filed. Unfortunately, I don’t have an emery board with me. I check my coat and my bag: no emery board. I run my thumb over the offending fingernail and wonder what I am going to do. I could bite the fingernail, but sometimes that has unintended consequences.

I’m not going to worry about the fingernail. For fuck’s sake, I’m a professional. I turn my attention back to my manuscript and blow the bangs out of my eyes. How did my bangs get so long? How can I possibly work with my bangs in the way? I brush them aside. I don’t suppose I brought any scissors with me. Maybe the barista has a pair.

Oh, for cryin’ out loud. I bring my attention back to my manuscript. The barista is playing some zydeco on the sound system, and I can’t write when there’s a catchy tune to listen to.

Oh, honestly. It’s like the universe doesn’t want me to get anything done! I spend a moment wondering how I have managed to write books in the past. Maybe I’ve lost it. Oh my zeus, maybe I’m going to have to start selling insurance.

Well, it might be more profitable. Maybe I should start selling insurance. I google “selling insurance” and see what comes up.

Then I look at the clock. It’s been ten minutes since I last checked my email. Get a grip, I tell myself sternly. I decide not to check email, but Facebook beckons. . . .

In desperation, I fall back on my go-to reward: Get to work, or no chocolate for you!

I contemplate a day without chocolate, and I get to work.


I wanted to get that out of the way first, in order to say I understand. I really do. Procrastinating is such  a seductive method of avoiding the work.

I know a lot of people who say that it’s just part of the process, and I’m not going to argue with anyone who has an entrenched position about this. Go procrastinate with my blessing.

But for everyone else, who doesn’t think it has to be part of the process, and wishes it weren’t, I have some thoughts for you.

That type of procrastination usually has one of two roots, (1) knowing the work is hard and spending time on Facebook gives a more immediate reward, and/or (2) not believing you’re capable of the work so if you put it off to the last minute, you can always blame any failure on it being done at the last minute. That means the failure is not in your skill or your talent.

Pandering to these two reasons for procrastination does not make you a better writer. What makes you a better writer is doing the work.

I get it, I really do. But procrastination is, at core, an unwillingness to deal with the discomfort required to do meaningful work. We all love that flow stage, where the work seems effortless, but sometimes flow is just another way of saying you’re on autopilot. 

When you start procrastinating, instead of beating yourself up or letting the procrastination take over, go a little deeper. Acknowledge that this is hard. Promise yourself a reward for doing it anyway.


My collection of travel stories, Travels with Jessica, is now available! Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.

And I’ve published my essay “For Jessica” as a small book. Kindle and paperback here; other ebook formats here.

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1 comment

  1. I love this post–so, so true! It always comes back to bum-in-chair-and-doing-the-work. Which is hard, but that’s where all the rewards are.

    (And I share your fingernail affliction–a hangnail, in particular, can knock me off my game completely until it’s taken care of. I just keep imagining it snagging on something and taking half my finger with it.)

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