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.”