Monday, October 18, 2010


The New Yorker had a great piece on the psychology of procrastination last week. You can see the full text here.

As someone who procrastinated on her MFA applications in the past (among other things), it got me thinking. Sure I still have at least three months until my first application is due (January 15), but I am still putting off revising my Statement of Purpose, contacting recommenders who might be valuable to me, and generally telling myself you have time. Last year I did the exact same thing and ended up accepted to a program, rejected from three, and ultimately not finding a good fit.

So my question for all you MFA-ers out there is: how do you deal with procrastination? Our profession is so self-driven, what motivates you on a day-to-day basis? Any tips and tricks for a highly passionate but very procrastinating fellow writer?


Sheila Lamb said...

I have to keep to a schedule, more or less. I usually reserve the mornings for writing time and I work in the afternoons. However, I am easily distracted by Facebook, twitter, blogs, etc. :-) I write longhand first, so that helps when I need to focus on a new draft.

B :) said...

I feel you! I was supposed to get on it today with full force, cause some of my apps are due as early as December 1st! Yikes!

Instead, I'm on here reading this blog... :)

STC said...

This topic hits home with me. In life generally I get nothing done unless it is due the next day.

Honestly, though, the amount of time I spend procrastinating has reached record highs this season as I feel the pressure to produce truly outstanding work for the sample. Writing becomes more intimidating.

To battle procrastination/paralysis I've been making up deadlines for myself along the way, the softest being self-set deadlines ("I promise myself I will finish revising this story in three days"), and the more effective deadlines being partnership-based, in which another writer and I agree to e-mail stories by a certain date. The best deadlines of course are workshop dates, though most of us don't have the luxury of those right now.

There go 18 minutes... =)

'11 MFA Draft said...

Yeah. This blog, while neat, somewhat keeps me from writing at times. Luckily, it's the only blog that I read, and I have somehow managed not to create a facebook. Still, I procrastinate in other ways. Write? Nah, I'll ride my bike to the coffee shop, etc. Man, I really need to get back to finishing up my sample.

Before I go: For me, a way to get me writing again, funny as it sounds, is to go scope out "the competition." I know writing is not really a competition, but if I make it feel that way-- say, by going to the bookstore and reading some of the new arrivals ("hey, I can do better than this" or "hey, this is pretty good, I better work on my game")-- this often gets me in writing mode.

Adam Atkinson said...

I'm more likely to make consistent progress on my writing when I'm excited about it, when I don't want to do anything else but write. Two things that help me get there:

- Reading and going to readings.
- Talking to other writers, sharing work, workshopping, discussing work we've both read.

Obviously, these practices are often easier to maintain if you live in a city or maintain long-distance correspondence with a crew of writer friends.

kaybay said...

'11 MFA Draft - ME, TOO! I'm totally motivated by reading other stories. It's either "I think I do better than that" or "I want to be at that level." Depends on the journal and the story ;)

I try to keep a schedule going (one hour reading/writing a day). But, I definitely don't always keep it and I let myself break the schedule when it's necessary. I do try to at least do *something* each day, whatever that is.

I also try to remind myself that I love to do this and want to go to grad school because I want to do this full-time (don't worry, I know it's a pipe dream). That helps, even when I'm getting down on myself.

Andrew P said...

Unemployment and all the time in the world!

anotherjenny said...

I find that procrastination is just a mask for my own misgivings about something I need to do: if I don't understand something, or am ambivalent about how to approach it, I'm less likely to face it head-on.

This definitely becomes a problem when I'm unsure about how to approach a story. The best thing I've found is just to write crappy drafts-- to just start writing, writing ANYTHING at all. I'm an editor at heart, so usually when I actually get something written, I can immediately decide, "Yes, this is working," or "No, that's the wrong direction, let's try THIS instead."

This year I entered a short story contest that makes you write 1,000-word stories in 48 hours. The contest always falls on weekends, and I inevitably end up being busy for half the weekend, leaving me only an afternoon or evening to crank out the piece. Yet I've been stunned at what I can accomplish given the deadline-- some really compelling stuff. Maybe I should write chunks of my MFA portfolio in 6-hour blocks, racing against the clock?

Although nowadays, other forces are at fault in my MFA procrastination... namely, that I'm in love, and I'm afraid moving across the country to an MFA will kill the best relationship I've ever had. Oh, life.

popsicledeath said...

I wonder how many of us were intending to work on MFA applications, as I was, and then got distracted (read as: given a reason to procrastinate) by that article.

So, I guess in this case the reason I procrastinated was because I love irony!

I find the more I have to do, the less I'm able to do. And the more time I have to do it, the even lesser I'm able to do. It's like I need a crappy dead end job reminding me of all the things in the world I hate that waste my time, or I just can't get motivated to sit down to write

Jeff said...

Reading about writing really inspires me to work. I'm always reading a "how to" book on writing fiction, even though I think a lot of those books don't technically "improve" your writing.

I don't like to be hurried so I try to keep from procrastinating. I set deadlines, too. Right now, I'm planning on having my new writing sample completed by November 1st. Then it's going to be critiqued by readers, and while that's going on I'll be printing mailing labels, writing statements of purpose, and compiling checklists for individual programs.

Once I get the story back, I'll revise and rewrite. Then I'll do a self-critique and then rewrite once again. After that, I go green light. Early December everything goes in the mail. I believe all my deadlines fall between December 15 and January 1.

This way, I can enjoy the holidays and New Year's without having MFA stuff setting around here waiting to be completed.

STC said...


I have to mention -- fun profile, but isn't Karen Russell a little young to have been anyone's nurse? Anyway I thought I was the only one who knew William Gay. He is the finest of the fine.

Jeff said...

Anyone else go longhand to avoid writing on a machine that can patch you into the Internet? When you think about it, a computer is the worst thing to write with; you're just begging to be sidetracked.

I see why Joyce Carol Oates uses a typewriter.

Jennifer said...

I recently had to start doing freewrites on a legal pad to make some headway on a certain piece--and I think I'm going to be doing a lot more of that. The damn computer with internet is just way too much of a distraction. I procrastinate like crazy because of it.

On the topic of Karen Russell. . . she was at Tin House this summer and you couldn't meet a nicer writer. She is really quite wonderful and you should all buy her book Swamplandia! when it comes out--I think in February. I heard her read from it and the prose was amazing.

Anonymous said...

Working full-time and falling asleep by 9:00 a lot of nights doesn't really get one inspired to write. I would also like to say that I can't write because my cats will sit on my keyboard or chew on fingers as I'm typing. This is what I get for adopting a kitten!

Unknown said...

For me, procrastination is like a liquid: it operates to fill whatever time I have. Creating urgency is hard to do.

Sheila Lamb said...

I always write longhand first - and it keeps me from logging on the internet. 7 pgs this morning -bare bones of a short story :-)handwritten

Jess Smith said...

These are all awesome suggestions. I feel motivated just by hearing how y'all get motivated!

I agree that competition pushes me to write...when I received this year's issue of The New Yorker's Top 20 Under 40 writers, I wrote for about three hours afterward just wanting to make it on that list someday!

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