Monday, March 19, 2012

Not Writing

Not writing is so, so, so much easier than writing. Even so, it is a specialized skill, and you can improve through dedicated practice.

The art of not writing is different from regular procrastination. Procrastinating is putting off work until the last minute by playing tetris, going out for ice cream, or watching three straight seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix.

Not writing is the next step. It’s the stage that begins once your guilty conscience strips the Blendtec YouTube channel of its power to thrill. In order to feel better while still avoiding work, it’s time to start lying to yourself.

I was already pretty accomplished at not writing in college, but deadlines and grades kept getting in the way of truly perfecting my craft. Now that all of my literary deadlines are self-imposed, though, I am rapidly approaching mastery. My most effective techniques for not writing fall into two categories:

Things that I tell myself are more important than writing

The key to satisfaction in not writing is believing that the other stuff you are doing is just as worthwhile, if not more so. In school, this category includes finishing the next three weeks of astronomy homework or putting 20 hours into that papier-mâché diorama of the Boer Wars that’s due after Christmas.

In the post-collegiate environment, I’m more likely to start with baking duck-shaped cupcakes for work or finally listening to that band my brother likes. These activities are obviously legitimate uses of time, I explain to my blank Word document, because I’m doing them for others. How could writing narcissistic comedy even hope to compete?

As the level of self-reproach increases, I escalate against it with home-upkeep oriented tasks, like alphabetizing the spice rack or trying on everything in my closet to decide what should go to Goodwill.

Eventually all of the sinks and toilets are really clean, and I sit down at the computer. I’m still open to more self-delusion, though, so it’s time for the second category of crafty ploys:

Things that I tell myself actually are writing

This is the real balancing act: avoiding the project by pretending to work on the project. The secret is developing ironclad mechanisms for achieving imaginary progress. In school, these tricks include picking fonts, setting margins, organizing sources, creating headers and footers with automatic page numbers, and figuring out how to type the accents in “papier-mâché diorama.”

Now, I prefer to start off by rereading my own existing material. This process is absolutely intended to help Maintain a Consistent Style; it is clearly not about Reliving Past Accomplishments Instead of Doing Anything. It also means that every post I finally finish gains me a few more minutes of delay for next time.

After all that staring at a screen, it’s about time for a round of cleaning out my purse while focusing single-mindedly on writing ideas.

When I eventually run out of fuzzy hard candy, I’ll turn to practicing ways to draw facial expressions in case I need them later.

As it turns out, not every picture is worth a thousand words.

In college, the not writing always had to end before the paper was actually due. But as a graduate who is neither graded nor paid for writing, I get to decide when everything is due. Sometimes I decide it’s never. When all else fails, though, there’s always writing an entire column about not writing things.