I live just a stone’s throw away from Procrastination Swamp. It’s a nice little house, the latest in emo-morphic design, so it’s a vine-covered cottage, sun-drenched villa, stark, brooding castle or whatever else best suits my mood on a given day. True, there are always odd shadows in the corners, but that’s on me. Everybody has a closet they simply Don’t Open, so I don’t suppose it much matters whether it’s stuffed with outgrown winter coats, poor fashion choices from the last decade and abandoned sports, or gaunt drooling monsters, phobias and neuroses. Equally scary either way. But I digress.
Lovely house, just a stone’s throw from Procrastination Swamp. I settled down on July first, eager to write. I had a story I was pretty excited about; it was inspired by a short story I wrote for my writing class, which had been well received. I was excited about the story, and had a good idea where it was going to go.
On July first I managed less than six hundred words. On the second, I had time to write all day. Instead I surfed the Internet and wasted time with games on my phone. Today (the third) I had a short evening shift and had a few chores around the house, but there was time to write. I didn’t.
About three hours before my shift started I realized something was wrong. I looked out the window, and sure enough, the waters of Procrastination Swamp had surrounded the house.
This isn’t the first time it’s happened. I have a plan for when it does. The first thing to do is figure just what part of the swamp has claimed the house. I was fairly confused about this; usually I get caught up in water from Self-Doubt Slough. I was pretty confident of this idea, and felt like I had a strong voice for the story. I asked myself what the problem was, why was I avoiding something I’d looked forward to, something that stood a good chance of being the best thing I’d ever written? It was like I was afraid –
There is a sinkhole in Procrastination Swamp, and it is named Fear of Success. It’s often omitted from maps of the swamp, because nobody wants to admit that they fell into a big ole hole while they were paddling around where they shouldn’t have been in the first place. I’ve been here a few times.
Once I realized where I was, I set about getting out. I had to address why I was so afraid of the idea of writing well, of being successful. For me, it goes back to my folks. Writing, anything imaginative, was belittled, deemed a waste of time. Which is odd, because both my parents loved to read. They’re gone now, so there’s no chance of getting their approval for my writing endeavors. They’re gone now, so why does it still matter so much, anyway? This usually isn’t an issue, Why the Heck has it suddenly become such a problem with this story?
I thought about my issues with my folks; I thought about my story. After a while I realized that I have a situation with two characters, a father (the primary physical antagonist) and his daughter (a supporting character, but important) that mirrors the tension I often felt with my father. Their relationship affects the story fairly strongly, even though I’m still not sure how strong a role the daughter herself plays in the story. Their conflict had, on some level of consciousness, knocked me into that sinkhole. And after I realized that, it was easy to climb out.
I spent a lot of my time at work thinking about the situation between those two characters. Could I make things better between them? If the daughter was stronger, how would she deal with her father? Maybe I needed to change that part of the story entirely, get rid of the daughter and bring the antagonist into the story another way entirely? I’m not sure and there are a few scenes I’ll have to write before I decide where I want to go. When I finally got home I found that the waters of Procrastination Swamp have receded again, and now it’s just a matter of getting enough sleep before tomorrow’s shift.
We all get stuck in Procrastination Swamp sometimes, even if we don’t belabor the metaphor to the extent I did here. The trick is to recognize when we are procrastinating and then identify why. Sometimes it’s because we have too many other demands on our time, sometimes we just aren’t excited about the idea. Sometimes, though, it’s because the writing is deeply personal, and we would rather avoid the emotions it evokes. Whether we choose to address the issue or not, identifying it lets us stop procrastinating.
BTW, the story I’m writing is a weird western. That’s supernatural, alternative history, and horror genres. The situation between the antagonist and his daughter is not one that I experienced growing up. The emotions and the dynamics of the situation were the same as situations with my father. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out when the story is touching on a personal issue.