Monday, April 29, 2013

Writing Inspiration: William James, Epic Procrastinator


Oh, William James, you speak for all of us.  He should have written a book called Seven Slothful Habits of Highly Effective People.

From Slate
He was hardly alone in this. William James was another chronic procrastinator. He told one of his classes, “I know a person who will poke the fire, set chairs straight, pick dust specks from the floor, arrange his table, snatch up a newspaper, take down any book which catches his eye, trim his nails, waste the morning anyhow, in short, and all without premeditation—simply because the only thing he ought to attend to is the preparation of a noonday lesson in formal logic which he detests."
The only reason he's poking the fire is that the internet had not yet been invented and there was no way to watch Henri the cat. (Or *cough* no way to surf Slate and write a clip-heavy blog post.)

Then again, there's the Spanish Inquisition of motivators: "Our chief weapon is surprise--surprise and fear."  

Obviously, procrastination can be productive in its own way.The Stanford philosophy professor John Perry is a proponent of structured procrastination, or avoiding doing your most important tasks by dealing with less pressing (but still worthwhile) items lower on your to-do list.
That's one approach. But I think many artists needed to procrastinate simply to ratchet up the pressure, whipping themselves into a state of near panic that, while bad for the nerves, is pretty good for the work. The playwright Tom Stoppard has noted that the only thing that really gets him to write is fear—he has to get “frightened enough to discipline myself to the typewriter for successive bouts.”

3 comments:

Anthea said...

Wow...news to me that William James was an epic procastinator.

undine said...

Well, as the Slate article says, we should all procrastinate as productively as WJ!

profacero said...

Had I not procrastinated about writing the final for one of my classes, I would have written the final as I think it should be. This would not have been realistic given the skill level of this particular group.

Because I procrastinated and had to write the final in a short time and at the last minute, I came up with a format and a set of questions that will actually work.

Ideally I should have been able to do that without procrastinating, but I don't know that I would have gotten the inspiration that way -- I got it from desperately looking over the Moodle site for the class, realizing I had put up a really useful quotation one week, went from there. I needed the combination of desperation and speed to come up with this, I think.