Creative procrastination

My abstract photo

My successful entry into a juried abstract exhibition at the Philadelphia Sketch Club

I have been itching to write on my blog for a few days, and although I can’t think of anything terribly profound to say, I think that I better get this out of my system. It is possible, too, that this is a new form of procrastination for me. Or is it?

When faced with the prospect of finishing a job for someone else, I am often overcome with the urge to do anything but. I must organize my to-do list. I suddenly want to do that other personal project I’ve had on the list for the last six months and haven’t gotten to yet. I have to write that letter to an old friend that I should have written after I got her Christmas letter (she probably thinks I’m dead, because she’s not on Facebook). And I must tell everyone that I got ANOTHER photo into a juried show (check the link for previews here!

What does it matter how the project gets done? It’s only my own health and emotional welfare that is at stake here. Hopefully the client in another state will have no idea of how hard it is to figuratively chain my ankle to a chair in order to get at their terribly interesting project. And actually, it is interesting. There is nothing more interesting to me than finding or creating words and images and putting them into some kind of visually appealing order. So, why wait?

I may never know the answer to that one. I do know a lot of terrific and productive creative people who have the same problem getting started or keeping going on a project. Danny Gregory, my favorite drawing guru, talks about “monkey brain”. Check out his thoughts on the subject here: Danny is talking more about the voice in your head that tells you not to even try being creative because you suck at it. He has lots of good tips for banishing that voice, including just get started by doing something simple. For me that translates into reorganizing my address book, but I get his point. Do SOMEthing towards the project at hand, and the rest will start to flow.

The discipline to get started and keep going seems to be heavily related to respecting your own time. When you work at home, it is extremely difficult not to think of all the other things that need doing, or that you want to do but have been putting off. Suddenly the thought of devoting a section of time that you might waste anyway to something specific sends a little whirlwind of panic into your calm and peaceful life. Must get it ALL done!

Helen Mallon is a terrific writer based in Philadelphia. (I was honored to create digital “covers” for her short stories, available on Amazon – To my eye, she seems to have tackled the demons of procrastination. She has, as do many creative people, her own projects (she’s writing a novel, and writes short stories and poetry), as well as those projects for other people from which she earns a living. But I know that she struggles with that impish urge to jump up from the desk and do anything but what she needs to get at. She has said that the writer Louise Erdrich said she used to tie herself down with scarves in order to write. I would probably spend too much time deciding which scarves to use, and might even have to dash out to Kohl’s to see what else I could find.

I’m sure there is a great psychological explanation for why we creatives procrastinate, and there may even be some artistic types out there who don’t. Believe me, the thrill of staying up until 4 am on a deadline grew old a long time ago, but I still find myself using that golden available time in the afternoon to do something else that could really wait instead of forging ahead on a project. Does the mere thought of a commitment to a client suddenly stimulate all the creative cells and make everything seem important? I can get a lot done in a short time and probably spend more time worrying about getting it done than actually doing it (and in the mean time get a lot of other stuff done). I think that knowing this is probably the first step to salvation. “Just do it” may be an overworked phrase, but sometimes it makes a lot of sense. That would give me more time to watch “Project Runway” or get some sleep later. Wouldn’t it be fun if Project Runway’s contestant mentor Tim Gunn would show up every now and then and say in his quiet and caring way “So, how are you doing?”

Okay, I think I’ve got that out of my system now. I have taken an hour and a half to acknowledge and muse about my own creative process and share it with you. I think perhaps that was just as important as working on my project. It will get done, it always does.


About jrwilsondesign

I am a graphic designer and art director with a love of art, nature, words and music and the ways in which they can be combined.
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4 Responses to Creative procrastination

  1. Louis Scanlon says:

    … and some perfectionist issues perhaps?

    • Should I say it takes one to know one? Although you have always seen the beauty in imperfection, so maybe not. Believe it or not, I have mellowed with age, but perfectionism has and can certainly be part of the delay tactic. With computers, you can keep changing until you put your foot down and say “enough!”. Maybe I ought to go back to paste-up days…Thanks for your comment, Louis!

  2. Such a fine line…I’m learning that applying self-discipline is sometimes the most compassionate way to approach a work day. But must not use sledge hammer! Thanks for a thoughtful post!

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