I think of procrastination as sort of being like a long layover. You are supposed to be on the way to someplace really great, but really you are just sitting in an uncomfortable chair reading a magazine and eating junk food.
Now, I am a person who has had some looooong layovers, and I have gotten to be a pro at making them seem interesting. Drink a bunch of coffee, chit chat with a few strangers, scribble down some random thoughts. Maybe you buy a book you weren’t really planning on reading. Maybe you catch up on your celebrity gossip. Maybe you take a nap and almost miss your boarding. You can’t really get into anything important, because you’re getting interrupted all the time by airport announcements and families running to catch their flights. You are in a place set up for the temporary, designed for passing through. None of your regular stuff is with you, including your focus.
The same thing counts for procrastinating. This is something I am experiencing a lot of recently, being between projects as I am. I haven’t really gotten on board with my new project yet, don’t even really know where I’m going, and while I sometimes think about character maps and plotlines and settings, mostly what I think about is presidential politics, gelatto, and how to get cat hair out of my sheets.
I’m in a temporary zone, a zone that is nowhere, doing nothing, waiting to catch the next ride out. It’s hard sitting down to write when you don’t know what’s supposed to follow, or when you don’t feel prepared to start writing.
When I was working on my last novel, I just wrote what came to me. I had a very vague plot outline, and I mostly followed it, just letting the characters and situations take me where they would. And while I am very proud of my last novel, and while I loved writing it, I think that it may have been even better had I spent a little bit more time preparing for it before I wrote. Fleshing out the characters a little more, bringing all the storylines together to a more climactic edge before ending it. Knowing what was at stake for each person before I went into the story, where they’d been and where they were hoping to go. Learning these things as I wrote was something of an adventure, but it made everything that came after the first draft that much more difficult, because I had to clean up after myself, cut off loose strings, decide what that character’s name was gonna be once and for all.
This time, I want to be sure of what I’m doing before I start. I want everything clean, tidy, and defined for me. No messes, no confusion, no whoops! Turns out that character’s been in jail for the past decade. Who knew? Will it make for a better story in the long run? I think so.
But does it matter if I never get on the plane? At some point, I have to get started. But when? Is it better to board the plane not knowing where it’s going, to possibly head straight for literary disaster? Or is it better to wait for exactly the right time and exactly the right destination, knowing that that time may never come?