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Do I Procrastinate?

David McMahon of Authorblog asks:
Do you ever procrastinate?

Me? Well, let’s put it this way — I have had this prompt bookmarked for attention for a week ….

Actually, my procrastination follows a pattern and seems to have purpose. It is something I noticed when I was in college. Even if I tried to do a paper early, I just couldn’t get my ideas to gel or make sense until the deadline loomed like a major specter over my head. The pressure of having to produce and the mad dash for the deadline seems to be a necessary component for my success.

I had a major paper due for my reading theory class. The paper was worth 50% of my grade and if I didn’t pass, I couldn’t go on to student teaching, which is all I had left of my degree classes. Every night for a week I sat in my bedroom ankle deep in drafts (the semester before I bought my computer) and all I could write was crap.

The assignment was straight forward. I was to describe in my own words the various theories on reading acquisition, then I was to explain my personal thoughts on reading acquisition and the approach I would take with a beginning reader. I tried writing that paper and it was unbearably stilted and boring. Reading is — or should be — exciting and dynamic and interactive. I wanted my paper to be the same.

I sweated through the week writing every single second I had free, and tossing reams of paper — one sheet at a time — at my overflowing trash can. The essay was due Monday. By Friday each tossed draft was accompanied by tears. Saturday I wrote and wrote and wrote and finally cranked out a stiff, starched, dry, one-paragraph-per-theory (including my personal theory) technically-correct paper — with no personality or soul whatsoever. Sunday morning I took it to the computer lab and typed it, but I hated it.

Sunday evening, 10 p.m., I crawled into bed, turned out my light, and thought about handing that paper to my reading instructor — who was about to have her opinion that I was a bright, dynamic, out-of-the-box-thinker changed forever. A little caricature of a crazy psychiatrist with a horrid and ever changing accent popped into my head, “Vhat did ju vant to zay?” He asked. “Well,” I thought in answer. “First off, I would explain that one of the first steps in reading acquisition is the recognition of environmental print, and that letters have meaning.” And the little psychiatrist asked, “Whad ish environmedal printz?”

And I hopped out of bed and started writing. I popped out a five page paper in under an hour. It dang near wrote itself. The little psychiatrist poked and prodded and questioned me through every step of language acquisition. Occasionally throughout the paper I could question him about his ever changing accent — which pulled the whole paper into my final paragraph about the ability of an accomplished reader to read text for meaning even when it is written in a non-standardized manner.

I was at the computer lab at the crack of dawn and typing furiously. I arrived in class and looked at a few of the papers written by my friends. They were formal reports, everyone of them. I’d brought my formal paper with me, just in case I decided I didn’t really want to be cute with an assignment worth 50% of my grade.

My instructor entered the room and asked that the papers be passed forward. Just because of where my seat was, I carried the stack to her desk. As I handed her the papers she said, “I am especially looking forward to reading your paper. I heard about the speech you gave yesterday in Psych class.”

I walked away from her desk scared to death. My speech had been very formal and by-the-book. We had been given a very precise outline to follow and were told not to deviate from it. I hadn’t — but I had seriously deviated from the outline given for this assignment. I told my friend Robin I didn’t think I was going to pass the class.

On Wednesday I entered the room with great trepidation. Shawna, the reading instructor, came straight across the room to me. Smiling, she said, “I won’t be giving that assignment again. I have never been so bored in my life as I was reading those papers — until I got to yours. I laughed until I cried. Oh thank you! You and that crazy psychiatrist probably saved my sanity. ”

What I learned from that incident probably saved my sanity as well. After that, if a paper wouldn’t flow, I didn’t try as hard to force it. Most of my best grades were received for papers written just hours before they were due. That’s how I give sermons and speeches as well. I study the material. I make possible outlines and I try out thoughts and ideas, but I don’t commit to my course until I have no more leeway. That always leaves my nerves just a bit on edge and my stomach just a tad upset, which apparently is my most creative condition.

On my resume I have a line that reads, “Works well under stress”, but the truth is, I work BEST under stress, but I’d just as soon you not tell my boss that. Another thing she doesn’t need to know is that if things are too easy, they’re apt not to get done at all.

It is 10:23 p.m. here in the last inhabited time zone at the end of the world. Everybody else has passed on to Sunday. I suppose there are still a couple of hours left for me to spruce this post up and make it better, but since there is no dire consequence attached to assure perfection, I declare this “close enough.”

Quilly is the pseudonym of Charlene L. Amsden, who lives on The Big Island in Hawaii. When she is not hanging out with Amoeba, she is likely teaching or sewing. Or she could be cooking, taking photographs, or even writing. But if she's not doing any of that, she's probably on Facebook or tinkering with her blog.


  1. Simply brilliant, Quilly, you champion
    I love the candour of the telling.
    It’s a wonderful piece of writing that I would recommend to any writer.
    The best stories / assignments write themselves – we are just the conduits.
    Any `artificial writing’ is always stilted – and the best writing only needs one single flash of inspiration, like the starter motor on a good car.

  2. I loved this post….I loved it especially, because that is how I write and how my papers got done while I was in college. I can’t tell you how many nights I was up fighting the paper and the computer…it was still DOS in those days. I think you are a brilliant writer and maybe a lost sister to boot. Some days my stream of conciousness writing is better than others.

  3. That is USUALLY how I work too! I remember when I had to give my brother’s eulogy, I was still putting finishing touches on it on the way to the church! It was a GREAT eulogy though! And when I had to write THE Birthday Prayer a few months ago… I worked on it for WEEEEEEEKS – it was horrible! I trashed it the night before the birthday and started again from scratch! I swear God wrote that prayer! It was awesome! Sometimes, that’s just the way it has to be! No pressure? No conviction!

  4. I find that I do my best writing like that-when there’s very little leeway until the paper is due. I also learned that when I try to fit my writing into a certain “academic” way-the words just can’t flow. But once I allow my personality come out a bit, I’m fine and can crank out a paper in relatively no time.

  5. wow, this was brilliant. i’m speechless.

    and… well, i almost always work in the same way… and have difficulty getting a useful idea until the very last moment. seems to be the cae with many creative people…

  6. Funny that’s the way I diod all of my major papers even my doctoral thesis. There is something about having a sword hanging over our head that causes creative juices to flow.

  7. oh yeah, i totally related to this. i wish i had a dime for every time i started an assignment half a day before it was due. the times i started before that? inferior quality. (suckfest).

  8. David — thank you. Have you read my short story? It is available in a tab on the side of my blog.

    Nancy — I am so glad you understand.

    Amber — I think procrastination is a very common trait!

    Melli — never prepare too much when God is in the mix. Just get a good grasp of the material, then stand back and let him work. He is awesome.

    SN — I suppose that’s what “they” mean when they say, “Write what you know”.

    Juliana — so, we’re all adrenalin junkies and our brains only work when we’re under duress?

    Dr. John — adrenalin and fear are great motivators.

    David — I have noticed you very much enjoy tongue-in-cheek insults.

    Holly — I have had a few times when I was sure my procrastination was going to bite back, so I always manage to squeak through.

  9. Procrastination is only human, I guess…or maybe it is my own excuse!!
    Enjoyed reading your post, reminded me of those due papers in college…which is a long time ago 🙂
    Written assignments were not my strong feature, it is still difficult for me to write. That’s maybe why I love pictures …
    I work best under pressure, no matter what.
    Back from vacation and catching up between laundry loads!

  10. Quilly that is a wonderful piece of writing. I looked at this too but did not serve it the justice you have. I work like that too, especially with essays. The number of times I was writing my best at 5am…
    I think this is sometimes why I blog so late. I am at my most creative in the middle of the night!!

  11. Mar — welcome home! I have never noticed a problem with your writing — but I have noticed that your pictures are outstanding!

    Cath — I am my most creative when I am too tired to second guess myself. When I am sleepy, I get some of my best and most creative ideas.

  12. Oh how well I relate to that predicament. I fight with doing things early for several reasons….one being the simple thought process of completing it. The second being the fact that I KNOW things will change before whenever the due date is.
    Consequently I can never stir up something I am happy with until it is deadline time.

  13. Jules — usually with syllabus assignments, things changing wasn’t an issue, but that is why I don’t ike to outline my sermons and speeches too tightly. I want to be able to reshape for a current event if it warrants a mention.

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