My “New Heroes” #1 – Famous Procrastinating Writers

rewrite edit text on a typewriter

Talk about procrastinators! Nearly 12 months ago, I wrote about my “Writer’s Pause“, and how I’ve been reluctant to press on with my book-length memoir rewrite.

It seems in all this time, not very much has changed! My “PAUSE” button seems to be working more like a “STOP” button instead.

Welcome to the abysmal life of a writer!

Thankfully though, I’m in good company!

Most famous procrastinators are (surprise surprise)…writers!

person using typewriter
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Any time you do a search online for famous procrastinators, surprising names repeatedly pop up.

These include Mozart, Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Bill Clinton, Justin Timberlake, Frank Lloyd Wright, Saint Augustine, and the Dalai Lama.

Go ahead, look it up if you don’t believe me.

But what really gets my goat is the fact that in every list of these repeat offenders, you will find nearly half of them are writers! We’re talking Franz Kafka, J.K. Rowling, Victor Hugo, Truman Capote, Margaret Atwood, Herman Melville, Douglas Adams, Samuel Johnson, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

And the list goes on.

I mean, gosh, why are these folks giving the rest of us writers such bad names huh?

And to add insult to injury, they were mostly…men!

Thanks a lot guys. Humph!

But, come to think of it…

Minecraft and other writer “antics”

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It’s actually quite a bag of laughs to read about the antics these infamous procrastinators would get into, all in the name of avoiding to write or forcing themselves to write.

Canadian author Atwood, who wrote the award-winning “The Handmaid’s Tale” that later became both a film and a TV series, would muck around the house every day and only start to sit and write after 3 pm.

Adams’ editors had to trap him in a hotel room for 21 days to cough up his last book in the famous “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” series. Sounds like a Covid-19 quarantine, doesn’t it?

Melville’s wife had to tie him up at his desk so he could write his epic novel “Moby Dick”.

Hugo, who penned classics like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Les Miserables”, would make his servants take all his clothes and leave him naked in the study until he’s ready to write.

Rowling, the creator of boy wizard Harry Potter, readily admits to being easily distracted by social media, online gaming, and 24-hour news channels. Fortunately for fans, Minecraft wasn’t invented before Rowling completed Deathly Hallows!

Need I say more?

Are Procrastinators and Failures the “Up Side of Down”?

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Perhaps one of the most amusing, witty, and downright honest assessments of this phenomenon of procrastination that I came across, was a 2014 article in The Atlantic by Megan McArdle. It was an extract from her book “The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Is the Key to Success.”

In that article, McArdle mentioned what to me could only be a pretty madcap theory.

She asserts that many writers, including herself and her esteemed colleagues at the paper, were habitual procrastinators because they all aced English back in their school days!

As preposterous as that might sound, if you read her article all the way through, you might (like me) find something to it. I mean, err hum, yours truly did kind of excel at the English language too during my school-going years.

Preposterous or not, that crazy theory did lead McArdle to talk about how those who coasted through most of their years in school, often end up less capable of facing challenges later on. They end up either dodging or “self-handicapping“, just to avoid or minimize failure.

Or at least the appearance of it.

Speaking of appearance…

The Imposter Syndrome

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In the same article, McArdle also wrote of the “Imposter Syndrome“, which made me immediately wince and squirm uncomfortably in my seat!

Did she call my bluff? Am I faking my “writing enterprise”? Fooling myself into believing I am a writer when in fact I’m anything but?

While I shudder to consider this unfortunate prospect, I’m heartened that this phenomenon, of not believing one has generally earned his/her achievements, is common enough that it merits this clinical term “Imposter Syndrome”.

According to McArdle, many successful people have it.

And guess what?

Many of them are…women!

(Wait wait, don’t crucify me, ladies! Earlier I was saying how most procrastinators are men, remember? So I’m just trying to ensure gender equality here that’s all. We’re good ya? Whew…)

So this realisation leaves me in a quandary. Am I now both Procrastinator and Imposter? Man and Woman? Yin and Yang?

How messed up is that?!

“It’s a mess. It’s supposed to be a mess!”

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Over the past year as I wrestle with rewriting my book’s “vomit-y” first draft, I’ve come to one unavoidable conclusion:

IT’S A MESS!

Of course, I take comfort all first drafts are imperfect, and therefore it’s supposed to be a mess.

The idea is to vomit everything out first before the clean-up work can begin. After all, why bother to clean if there’s no mess?

But I’ve also learned that as I rewrite, I find myself revisiting and rethinking the original ideas and themes I had in my book, as well as the direction it was initially intended to take. And I find that all of these have either morphed somewhat or completely transformed beyond recognition.

Therein lies my dilemma and resultant inertia. For each time I’ve attempted to return to my drafts, the clean-up work involved has simply floored me!

In my defense, I did manage to rewrite certain sections and move paragraphs and scenes around in the first Act of my book (for a better flow). However, the going has been glacier-slow, and my self-imposed deadlines have become constantly shifting goalposts.

Highly frustrating!

Procrastinator? Guilty. Quitter? NOT (yet) Guilty!

small judge gavel placed on table near folders
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So with the research I’ve shared in today’s blog, I can now take great comfort, knowing…
…I’m one of many procrastinators in the world,
…my experience is hardly unique, and
…my journey so far is thankfully not as colorful and dramatic as the illustrious writers I mentioned earlier!

But still, the rewrite journey remains foreboding, yet I’m too far along to quit now.

And besides, according to good old Abe Lincoln, good things come to those who wait, but only what’s left from those who hustle. I’m already a procrastinator and potential imposter; don’t wanna add “hustler” to the list too!

So my goal for the second half of this year is to complete at least two to three more rounds of editing before New Year’s Day 2022.

Then maybe I’ll be ready to share it with another pair of (critical but trusted) eyes who will help me move this glacier-size project along before it melts away!

Please wish me well okay?

Meantime, stay tuned for my next post about my other “new heroes” ok? Coming soon : )

One thought on “My “New Heroes” #1 – Famous Procrastinating Writers

  1. Wow, this is a quality post right here. Well researched too. I myself have found that procrastinating helps me get the house work done, because whenever I face the blank page, I’d do anything but write lol. But yeah, thanks for making me feel less guilty for doing so, Kelvin!

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