"Opportunity's Assassin:" A Student Writer On Procrastination
Throughout my undergraduate career, I’ve continuously fine-tuned an anti-procrastination strategy.
• Study in a quiet library or café with my most studious friends.
• Set my phone to airplane mode.
• Turn on a Google Chrome extension that blocks my access to Facebook, reddit, etc.
• Download a motivational desktop background (my go-to depicts a man climbing a rock face with the quotation “suffer the pain of discipline, or suffer the pain of regret”).
The above strategy is my way of staying focused during the weeklong—or, let’s be honest, nightlong — trial-by-fire before a deadline. It’s commonly accepted that last-ditch efforts like all-nighters are miserable experiences that lead to inevitable regret. But, quite often, we still attempt to write papers in a fraction of the time the assignment requires, despite the setbacks to our grades, bodies, and minds. The setback procrastinating students don’t consider or rather, don’t have time to consider, is that procrastination shatters the opportunity to grow and develop as a writer. I’d like to discuss the ways that help me finish my papers on time and, more importantly, facilitate my development as a writer.
The hardest thing about writing is getting started. I procrastinate because avoidance is easier than sitting in front of a blank white screen, not knowing what to write or how to write it. This becomes an agonizing cycle: write a couple sentences, figure they’re awful, delete them, back to the blank screen, and repeat.
There’s a simple way to break this cycle. Don’t be afraid to write garbage. Just get your thoughts on paper. Who cares if the grammar is rough and the spelling wrong? Worrying whether your writing is “good” or not is a judgment you save for the end, after you have allowed yourself to untangle the brilliant ideas from the rest of the mind’s cacophony. Fixating on “correctness” while drafting will only disrupt your thought process. Once the pressure of writing well is alleviated, you will find thinking and simply writing your ideas down much, much easier.
During an upper division English seminar, my classmates and I were assigned a twenty-page research paper. Done well, that final paper would mark a student's successful completion of the seminar, illustrate their hard-won skill of understanding lengthy texts on complex topics, and show off the ability to construct engaging an argument. Oh, and this paper determined 50% of our final grade. In short, the parameters and consequences of this paper placed considerable pressure on the students. I had never written anything of such length and consequence and, since the due date was at the end of the semester, I was tempted to avoid the assignment.
But early on, the professor introduced the invaluable notion of writing a “throat-clearing” piece as means to reduce the writer’s anxiety and catalyze the writing process. He encouraged us to write junky little paragraphs to make way for a flow of more developed ideas. The less polished our initial paragraphs, the happier he seemed because his goals were to temper the anxiety of such a huge assignment, jumpstart the drafting process, and show us the benefit of pressure-free writing. Victor Kiam puts it this way, “Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward.” Go ahead and write an awful sentence, thesis, paragraph, or pages. You’re now way ahead of where you were when you started. Just mark the "awful" sections of your writing and go back to them later. Now you’ve arrived at a critical part of the writing process: editing and proofing.
Again, worrying whether your writing is well presented, organized, and error free is an exercise meant for the end, after the drafting process. Such pressure to write "well" only halts the initial flow of ideas. Drafting and editing are separate tasks. Once a writer has a completed draft, editing allows the writer the opportunity to go back and address rough prose. Proofreading is the time to fix grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Taking the time to review your ideas and initial draft makes a piece of writing successful and ready to be read by peers and professors.
Writers who procrastinate have limited time so they must complete the divergent tasks of drafting, editing, and proofing concurrently. At this unfortunate point, the opportunities to write a successful paper, practice writing skills, and gain confidence as a writer are lost forever. Writing an essay in these time-pressured circumstances is like attempting to build a home all at once: imagine laying the foundation, installing flooring, constructing the frame, and adding décor simultaneously.
Writing with confidence is a skill that improves with time and practice. Procrastination is self-sabotage—for your body, grade, and confidence as a writer. An all-nighter and a silly strategy involving a Chrome productivity extension may get the paper done, but you forfeit the opportunity to grow as a writer. Don’t to be afraid to get off to a rough start and remember to save enough time to revise your draft into a work that will be ready to be enjoyed by your audience.