This blog was featured on 08/21/2018

Tayari Jones warns against letting what “needs to be done” get in the way of what else needs to be done—your book.

It's time to introduce a new term: Workcrastinaton.

If you're like me, you think that procrastination involves Law & Order marathons and Twitter, and these are insidious forms of procrastination, for sure. But there is another, more sneaky, incarnation-- Workscrastination. This is when you blow off your novel for important stuff that needs doing, not fun stuff, but necessary stuff. For example, right now. I know I need to be working on my novel, but I am doing things like grading student papers. (It must be done! It's my job!), paying bills (It's the first of the month!), etc.

Other instruments of Workcrastination may include visiting this website. (Yes, I know irony when I see it.) Networking and other marketing concerns are particularly slick forms of workcrastination. It's very easy to trick yourself into thinking that you are making progress on your book because you are going to this and that conference where you got to meet a certain famous author (OMG she gave me her card!!), etc.

You tell yourself that publishing is all about who you know, so this is all very positive. It's taking your career into your own hands. And, since you don't have access to an Old Boys Club, you have to hustle harder. And maybe you should order up a new set of cards now that you think about it. And what about your website, your blog? You get the idea. Cut it out. It's workcrastination. Working for the book is not the same as working on the book. Working on marketing and networking is easier than finishing your book-- especially once you have reached that 100 page mark and you feel like you are trying to bathe an octopus. Endlessly researching agents and scouring Publisher's Marketplace is a lot easier than figuring out what's hanging you up emotionally and keeping you from being able to develop your characters. And who wouldn't rather drink a Bellini at an awards ceremony than read your entire manuscript aloud to check for pacing problems? And anything you do in a party dress is more exciting than sitting at your kitchen table in your robe, struggling to get your heart on the page.

The human mind is amazing, indeed. When you blow off a writing day in favor of a lazy three-mimosa brunch with your girlfriends, you feel guilty. Guilt is an ugly emotion, but it has its uses. In this case, it is your project’s way of getting your attention.

Workcrastination is a weird, almost evolutionary defense against guilt. No one can blame you for spending the day working for Meals on Wheels! Like that old commercial from the '70s used to say, “Pretty sneaky, sis.”

I love the illustration for today's post. Here is the source, so you can see it in a larger size. The caption says "Procrastination is an art." If that's true, I would say, "Workcrastination is a science."

You know what you need to do. Just do it. Sit down, get quiet. Write your book. No one can do it but you. Adopt a zero-tolerance policy for yourself-- If it ain't the book, it's procrastination. If the house is burning down, grabbing a hose = procrastination. Time to get to work.

And not to encourage bad behavior, but SheWriters—what is your favorite form of workcrastination? And if you don’t workcrastinate, how did you learn to resist its siren song?


* This post was originally published in August 2010.

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  • Tammy Burns

    Yes, to the longhand! It's true that I do get so much more done when I'm away from my computer - not just for the lack of Internet access, but also because it's somehow easier to let the words flow out from my pen instead of a keyboard (and yes, I'm also one of the anti e-book people and someone who uses a paper day planner instead of a blackberry). When typing, I find I get too hung up on how it should sound, how it should look, noticing typos, etc. It's a lot easier to just let my mind go when I'm scribbling words down, scratching out words, drawing arrows to new ideas on the next page, etc.

  • Surviving the Draft

    @Tari, the new project distraction is dangerous. It's almost like the new lover distraction that keeps you from really working on the relationship you're in! @Ginger, @Tammy, @Alipat-- you may have to work in longhand, with a notepage that is not connected to the internet. I find when I take my notebook to the library, I get a LOT more done.

  • Ginger B. Collins

    I am right there with Tammy's comment from yesterday. Cyberspace is an easy lover. It's hard to break away. Now that I publish a blog I feel compelled to keep a regular posting schedule. Scanning for new post material I often get sucked past the headllines and into stories from the publishing news sites, book blogs, and writer blogs. One thing that works for me is a timer. Seriously. Ten minutes for scanning the news. When the timer goes off, I decide if I want to bookmark the piece for later, then I close the window. If I haven't finished my list it means I need to browse faster next time. Tough love.

    My best defense against workcrastination is my writing group. Sometimes my only motivation to write is knowing I have to produce 10 pages of good draft material for the next meeting. The need to write 10 pages usually stimulates the drive to revise the last chapter or delve into some "what happens next" thinking.

    Ginger B.

  • Carleen

    I need to tape this over my keyboard!

  • Tari O\'Neill

    I come up with new ideas all the time. New projects to explore! It's terrible. Nothing solid gets done because it now feels like a whim.

  • Heidi M. Thomas

    This is great--love the new word! And that is what I do, oh my!

  • Tammy Burns

    Since deciding to really write, I've become an online networking junkie: reading publishing blogs, commenting on writers' blogs (ahem, as per right now), updating my website, contemplating writing my own blog, signing up for every single writing group on LinkedIn, realizing - OMG - I don't have a Twitter account yet and then spending two hours signing up and hunting down every single magazine/newspaper I've ever wanted to write for so I can follow them. It's a dangerous place, that cyberspace.

  • Shelley Ettinger

    Love it, Tayari. Just this weekend I gave myself a stern talking-to and actually wrote up a writing schedule ... and just this afternoon when I finished work I read and commented on a friend's chapter rather than writing my own, justifying it to myself as in the writing realm so therefore counting as a writing session. Lame. Thanks for the kick in the butt.

  • I commented on my endless workcrastination (including what i'm doing right now), but I have been successful at "resisting its siren song." But these moments are generally intense periods of focus where I postpone all nonessential activities and do nothing but write in my spare time or "waiting times." I ignore the phone, emails, household chores, the rapidly-rising piles in my office and screams of my family to do something about them and just write. I have a lightweight laptop that I carry everywhere I go and turn on whenever I have a spare 15 minutes - including while sitting in the carpool line (before we're allowed to start driving, of course). During these periods I also stay up a few hours later than the last family member and/or rise earlier. It's usually an ugly, smelly, clutter-filled period, but extremely productive. The problem is that once I reach my goal of finishing a set of revisions or whatever it is, I revert back to putting writing on the end of the list. But one of my writing instructors gave me a great piece of advice - 10 MINUTES A DAY. If nothing else, write something, even if it's just your thoughts, for 10 minutes a day. I try to do this, even in the most hectic times.

  • Surviving the Draft

    For me, a turning point was when I put the book before the other "to-do" items... and nothing bad happened. The world did NOT end because I didn't have lunch with some random person, or I didn't clean the house, or (shhh) grade my students' papers right away.

  • Teri Carter

    I should spend my Workcrastination time reading and re-reading this article. It's funny how, when you're wrestling the octopus, as you say, the dog suddenly needs an extra walk, a pedicure feels like a necessity, and your books on "this shelf" must be moved to "that better shelf". But my all time favorite is reading books ABOUT writing instead of actually writing. Kind of like watching an exercise show while sitting on the couch.'

  • Andrea Campbell

    This is one of my biggest problems. I feel like a rat on a wheel just trying to make ends meet. I have a to-do list that keeps getting altered, but the entry for doing "the book," always gets pushed to the bottom. It's a constant struggle. I think after I am finished with the project I am doing—a book proposal—that I am going to turn off all "social networking" and links and things that veer me away from serious writing. Decisions, decisions.

  • Rachel Kramer Bussel

    Thanks, Tayari - so, so true, and I excel at workcrastination and busy work because it seems easy and simple, you can finish these tasks in under an hour, whereas a book, not so much. Love the term!

  • Katherine Harms

    Someone, I forget who, said that the key to success as a writer is KBOC -- Keep Butt On Chair. You said it very well.

  • Way to go, Tayari! Great graphic--it led me to a bit of pro-/workcrastination.
    Haven't gotten to the book stage yet but I know what to look for in time use now!
    PM_Poet Writer

  • Where to begin? Workcrastination takes so many forms in my life - my personal Hydra. There's cooking or making snacks for my family instead of saying "get your own damn sandwich!" There are bills, household errands, phone calls, checking emails, surfing the web, making beds, chauffeuring people around, solving all family crises other than my own internal crisis re not getting the millionth set of revisions to my novel done. The list is endless, and as I check one thing off the long non-writing to-do list, five new "to do's" seem to appear in its place.