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Putting off writing
February 16, 2014 3:13 PM   Subscribe

Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators "Over the years, I developed a theory about why writers are such procrastinators: We were too good in English class. This sounds crazy, but hear me out."
posted by dhruva (84 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
Writers are the best? You don't know software development then. Unless you've spent a day choosing a monospaced font and an IDE colour theme, you haven't procrastinated.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:18 PM on February 16 [36 favorites]


.....this is The Atlantic equivalent of writing an essay about how you have idea what to write an essay about.

I write when I have external demands making me do so, like money or a desire to save face or a PRESSING LEGAL CONTRACT. It's not like making a chair or baking, if you just keep doing it you get an x number of units after. I can write for 48 hours straight and not come up with a single decent idea, and the bulk of my "writing" usually takes place when I'm in the bathtub or cooking or sitting on the subway ( or, oddly watching old TV while doing some busy work, very meditative. Shows I know by heart are like watchig the fireplace.)

And I did kinda shitty in English cause I thought writing essays was boring.
posted by The Whelk at 3:23 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


I only read the first sentences of each paragraphs but I don't think the complaints against Millennials' need for direction is anything new.
posted by sieve a bull at 3:24 PM on February 16


This article, while framed (somewhat offensively, in the same way that any article about how the author's career is more special than your career feels kind of like a slap) around the long-suffering travails of writers, is really more about fear of failure as a stick that some people find invigorating & how it's terrible that parents are stifling kids these days by not letting them fail enough.

I rather liked the Toast's take on it: Everyone Has Imposter Syndrome Except For You
posted by Going To Maine at 3:24 PM on February 16 [13 favorites]


Unless you've spent a day choosing a monospaced font and an IDE colour theme, you haven't procrastinated.

I credit Solarized and Source Code Pro with stealing from me my most productive strategy for getting nothing done. Fortunately, there's still keymappings in vi to get just so.
posted by fatbird at 3:26 PM on February 16 [8 favorites]


Also she's a professional libertarian scold.
posted by The Whelk at 3:27 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]


I didn't read it, but the sooner you get over the silly-ass romanticizing of writing and all that horseshit about "muses" and "inspiration" and accept that it's work exactly like any other work, the sooner you'll be a real writer.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:28 PM on February 16 [22 favorites]


ps: The correct response to "But hear me out" is always "No."
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:28 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


All the real work in writing is done staring out of the window, driving, having a shower, half asleep, doing the groceries. The actual typing part is just transcribing.
posted by sweet mister at 3:29 PM on February 16 [11 favorites]


(corollary of above being that the more procrastination the better)
posted by sweet mister at 3:29 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Writers procrastinate because deep down they know the world doesn't need another contractual novel.
posted by planetesimal at 3:30 PM on February 16 [6 favorites]


Panic is the mother of inspiration.
posted by The Whelk at 3:30 PM on February 16 [15 favorites]


This all rang fairly, if a bit obviously, true, right up until the bizarre digression into millennial-bashing.
posted by Sokka shot first at 3:30 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]


The time I would spend writing this article and responding in this thread could be spent writing or drawing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:31 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]


Writers procrastinate because deep down they know the world doesn't need another contractual novel

Man when I started to write for money those block-length open air used book tables because the most terrifying things ever ( oh look, a solid concentration of hundreds of thousands of hours of effort and care and thought now literally unable to be given away.)
posted by The Whelk at 3:32 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


right up until the bizarre digression into millennial-bashing.

See above, author is a paid crank for billionaires with Horatio Algar fetishes.
posted by The Whelk at 3:33 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


but hear me out.

You should see how much readers procrastinate.
posted by phaedon at 3:33 PM on February 16


Lots of writers don't procrastinate. The idea they have a unique practice that is extra special is really not borne out by the most cursory examination.

Also, people who write for a living are pretty different to people who do it in their spare time, much like hobbyist carpenters versus actual carpenters, amateur musicians versus actual musicians etc. I don't think a lot of generalisations about writers are really very valid given the diversity of the field; this is especially the case when it comes to crossing the hobbyist/professional divide.
posted by smoke at 3:38 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I think there's a general thing about procrastination and, indeed, attention deficit problems: if you were smart enough to manage okay in school despite them, nobody ever brought them to your attention and you never got any help. Then when stuff starts falling apart when you're an adult, you don't have the same resources available to fix it. It is so not a writing problem, except in that external cues to do things help, and people who are self-employed and work in spaces by themselves have many fewer of those.
posted by Sequence at 3:39 PM on February 16 [19 favorites]


No that's that's far too humane Sequence, it has to be about thier lack of will power, because decadent moderns, it must be all that health care they get the babies.

If you're good at something, don't do it for free. Give me a reason to write something.
posted by The Whelk at 3:42 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I credit Solarized and Source Code Pro with stealing from me my most productive strategy for getting nothing done.

Dammit now I have to spend the next hour or so testing new fonts and color combinations.

I don't know who this article is targeted at. It is not targeted at writers. We know why we procrastinate. We have an infinite supply of reasons to procrastinate. We could write you a 10,000 word essay about reasons to procrastinate, far more easily than we could crank out 1000 words for a deadline.

So I assume that the article is targeted at readers. More specifically, Megan McArdle's readers. The subject of the story is procrastination by writers. But the object of the story is that readers should humble themselves before Ms. McArdle, whenever she deigns to step down from Mount Olympus with her latest wisdom chiseled into stone tablets.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:43 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


I think a lot more people like calling themselves writers than actually doing the work of writing. I know a handful of people that have completed something of length and even fewer that have actually sold it but man I am absolutely deluged with people that like sharing pithy quotes about how hard it is to be a writer or liking writing things on Facebook or posting about their novels that will never actually be completed.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:43 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]


I'm gonna read this a little later.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:45 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Unless you've spent a day choosing a monospaced font and an IDE colour theme

Not to mention spending a week starting a project in a certain language, then deciding to scrap it and write it in another.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:45 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Well, most people will never be chefs but lots of people like cooking. Eh.
posted by The Whelk at 3:45 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Let me explain to you why I have the failings that I have: IT'S BECAUSE I'M AWESOME
posted by Flunkie at 3:56 PM on February 16 [14 favorites]


.....this is The Atlantic equivalent of writing an essay about how you have idea what to write an essay about.

You're just saying that because you're reasonably prolific, The Whelk.

Some of us work very hard at this procrastinating thing.
posted by Sara C. at 3:59 PM on February 16


Writers are the best? You don't know software development then. Unless you've spent a day choosing a monospaced font and an IDE colour theme, you haven't procrastinated.

That's only two parts of the back crack and sack of yak-scaping. You forgot the language wars.
posted by srboisvert at 4:04 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Having moved from writing prose to doing comics, I think it's interesting how the two different procrastination matrices play out. Writing prose, it was always a struggle to get anything done. Doing comics, I have to grit my teeth and force myself to work (unless there's some weird inspiration thing going on, which happens occasionally in prose, too) in the phases where I'm writing a script and then doing the initial rough pencil drawings. Editing scripts, and all of the drawing after rough pencils (so, tightening up pencils, inking, scanning, coloring, lettering, finishing) are easy matters of just sitting down and doing the task at hand.

I guess it really illustrates that, for me at least, procrastination is all about avoiding the battle with actual creation, and that any situation where you're facing a blank page is the scary-as-shit part. If you're just moving a process forward, it's no big deal.
posted by COBRA! at 4:04 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]


The general theme is quite true, but she's applying it too narrowly. It's a problem for all sorts of folk doing all sorts of things. I believe that this was all discussed in a recent post about procrastination.

It's about perfectionism and I think the writer is correct in diagnosing some childhood stuff as a cause. When the emphasis is on the product and not the effort, and when a child is told that he or she is naturally talented (intelligent or athletic or artistic), then early in childhood the pattern is established where the focus is on the excellence of the performance and how that reflects upon the value of the child that produces it.

As this writer says, then such children, which include myself, grow up to feel that everything we do (at least the things we do that are the things we've come to believe that we're good at doing) must be exceptionally good, or it indicates some fault in ourselves, that we're not good enough as people.

For me it really has nothing to do with an attention deficit disorder — that's very much not a problem of mine. It's all about the perfectionism and the feeling that everything I do has to be done well.

I was discussing this with some folks last month, specifically as a result of the MetaTalk discussion about guests on podcasts and my suggestion of the possibility of doing an independent set of podcasts that interview various mefites. Very quickly that evening, as I thought about it, I went deep down the rabbit hole of planning how I should achieve such a project. I'm thinking about people with experience editing audio interviews (even though I have experience in radio and audio voice production), I'm thinking about pre-interviewing people to set them at east, and then maybe two separate interviews to produce enough material, on different days, to have some good stuff. I'm thinking about how to solicit mefites for interview subjects. I'm thinking about audio quality. There's no end to the things I'm worrying about.

And at some point, I realized that I just won't do this. I have no idea how to do something without making it an elaborate project where I try to account for all the things that could go wrong and how to make it THE BEST THING EVER.

I think this is a problem for many writers simply because not that many people, in the larger scheme of things, can write coherently at all. Everyone here knows this — just writing at the level that is expected for comments here at MeFi is more than most people can comfortably manage. That's not a value judgment — I don't think that everyone needs to be able to write that well, English teachers notwithstanding. No, simply being able to write coherently, being able to make a cogent argument, being able to write something at length that is amusing or interesting ... that's a relatively rarefied skill in the general population.

So everyone who ever considers a career as a writer, and especially everyone who actually works as a writer, is someone who almost certainly as a younger person was praised for their writing. They develop expectations for themselves that are unrealistic, especially as they work at higher and higher levels of performance.

It's not a problem specific to writing, but it's probably common among writers. It's certainly always been a problem for me.

And with regard to social issues, I think that it's a mistake to praise children as talented. It's a mistake to tell them that they're exceptionally smart, or exceptionally athletic, or exceptionally artistic because talent really doesn't count for much. Talent is relatively common and cheap. What's less common is hard work. This also means that you shouldn't put too much emphasis on praising the quality of what children produce, their performance, because if they are talented, they'll learn that they'll be praised even when they make very little effort. And that won't work for them later in life, because eventually they'll be functioning in an environment where making only a small amount of effort will produce failure, not praise.

And this isn't a problem specific to younger folk; putting the emphasis on the wrong things is as old as parenting. Which is to say, it's always been true.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:05 PM on February 16 [30 favorites]


I didn't read it, but the sooner you get over the silly-ass romanticizing of writing and all that horseshit about "muses" and "inspiration" and accept that it's work exactly like any other work, the sooner you'll be a real writer.

Most people who claim that they would like to be writers don't, in my experience, actually want to spend most of their time writing. They want to be someone who is a writer, they don't necessarily want to write.
posted by clockzero at 4:06 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Great is the enemy of Good.

Ms. McArdle is neither great, nor good.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:08 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


It is much easier to write with the aim of improving your writing than the aim of finishing Some Great Thing. But for some reason it is rarely framed that way. People would rather posit that it is the way they write that needs improvement, not the writing itself.
posted by tooloudinhere at 4:08 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


You're just saying that because you're reasonably prolific, The Whelk.

Some of us work very hard at this procrastinating thing.


You have no idea how much crap I produce to make up for all the other crap I'm supposed to produce.

( Lighting crack)
posted by The Whelk at 4:10 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I'm on the record as saying I hate writing but I like editing but I don't like editing anyone else's work but my own so I'm stuck with it.
posted by The Whelk at 4:11 PM on February 16 [7 favorites]


procrastination is all about avoiding the battle with actual creation, and that any situation where you're facing a blank page is the scary-as-shit part.

So true. I have no problem motivating myself to take care of the following tasks:

- booking crew
- craft service shopping
- filling out SAG paperwork
- making a shot list
- actually being on set doing the thing

But the part where I actually write stuff? nopenopenopenope
posted by Sara C. at 4:13 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Also, are all of the weird plural apostrophes (A's, 1940's) an Atlantic style thing, or a McCardle thing?
posted by COBRA! at 4:17 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


McArdle writes for the Atlantic now?! Did they lose a bet?
posted by octothorpe at 4:21 PM on February 16 [8 favorites]


Let me explain to you why I have the failings that I have: IT'S BECAUSE I'M AWESOME

Yeah, that is really how that came across, and this notion that 'z0mg talented slackers are now faced with not being the best' is unique to writers is downright bizarre. Disclaimer: couldn't finish reading all the nonsense about the fear of not being the best anymore. You know, like that was something that didn't happen in every other field too.

If writers procrastinate more, it's just that we have very little supervision. Give a guy digging ditches this much freedom, they'd spend all day screwing around on the Internet too.

It's easier, and we can get away with it. So sometimes, we do.

*shrugs*

Trying to make more out of it sounds like someone wants justification, even praise, for their lousy work ethic.
posted by mordax at 4:24 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


First!
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:38 PM on February 16 [12 favorites]


It reminded me a little of an article I read in NY Magazine a few years back about how praising kids for being talented at something can come back to bite them later. This immediately resonated with me to the extent that I still remember that article 7 years later. I think it was better than this one.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:40 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Hello, my name is loquacious and I'm procrastinating on re-writing my resume. I did get a cover letter done, though.

Is there some way I can be on the internet without actually being on the internet? I need to be on the internet to write this so I can look up resume examples and research the company and stuff, yet I'm on the internet because HEY LETS GO RIDE BIKES.
posted by loquacious at 4:49 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


20/10s. Or 10/5s. Or 25/5s. I think that Pomodoro-type intervals are the only thing that keep me halfway productive even with my meds. That way you're always a few minutes away from being able to go check Metafilter again.
posted by Sequence at 4:56 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Except that if writers spend all their time being productive by writing, they won't have any other experiences to convert into writing. All procrastination is productive if you can wring a story out of it later.
posted by subdee at 5:39 PM on February 16


It reminded me a little of an article I read in NY Magazine a few years backabout how praising kids for being talented at something can come back to bite them later.

Athanassiel, the researcher featured in that article, Carol Dweck, wrote a book called Mindset about her research into the topic. It's a pretty fast but interesting read if you were interested in the ideas covered in the NY Mag article.
posted by aka burlap at 5:45 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


All procrastination is productive if you can wring a story out of it later.

Not if it's procrasti-bation.
posted by crossoverman at 5:50 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


>All procrastination is productive if you can wring a story out of it later.

Not if it's procrasti-bation.


ROFL.

You remind me of a high school journalism class (yes I was a school newspaper/yearbook geek) on this FPP's topic. It was a slow news day so the local paper's sportswriter wrote a column about sportswriting. The writer took great pains to demonstrate the mechanics of sportswriting. One paragraph was typeset in 5.5 point Agate type. The writer said this is the 5.5 point Agate type we use to typeset sports statistics and game results. The paragraph about Agate type was set in Agate type. Then the writer wrote a paragraph about each of the three other typefaces used in his column. Each paragraph was set in the typeface he was discussing.

I still remember my journalism teacher putting this article up on the overhead projector in front of the class, and raging about the unreadably tiny Agate font in particular, "THIS is when you know a journalist has absolutely NOTHNG OF VALUE to say, when he writes about writing."
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:13 PM on February 16


GallonOfAlan: "Writers are the best? You don't know software development then. Unless you've spent a day choosing a monospaced font and an IDE colour theme, you haven't procrastinated."

I thought that programmers procrastinated by spending two days to write a script to do something that would have only taken four hours to do manually.
posted by octothorpe at 6:16 PM on February 16 [9 favorites]


Piffle. I've had this tab open for nearly an hour before I got around to reading the comments to see if I should go ahead and read TFA, which has been open in a different tab for about an hour and fifteen minutes. I think I'll hold off on the article, I need to clean my desk a bit.

On the other hand, I might just check if there's a new post. That? That's procrastination.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:25 PM on February 16


Ms. McArdle is neither great, nor good.

Well, in fairness she writes more and publishes more than probably 99 percent of us here, so clearly she is doing something right.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:30 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


I'll write my comments later.
posted by travelwithcats at 6:35 PM on February 16


nopenopenopenope

I like the built-in wordplay in this: you can read it as nope or as no pen or, stretching it a bit, as no open with the o's elided.
posted by anothermug at 6:37 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


I hate writing but I like editing but I don't like editing anyone else's work but my own so I'm stuck with it.

This is the truest thing I've ever read.
posted by Ouisch at 6:57 PM on February 16


It isn’t that they never failed, but at a very early age, they didn’t have to fail much; their natural talents kept them at the head of the class.

This teaches a very bad, very false lesson: that success in work mostly depends on natural talent. Unfortunately, when you are a professional writer, you are competing with all the other kids who were at the top of their English classes. Your stuff may not—indeed, probably won’t—be the best anymore.


Every single mathematician you know was always at the top of their math class in high school, too. And if you think people who can write are told it's all due to intrinsic aptitude, try being good at math.

And yet, grown-up mathematicians do math all the time, and procrastinate no more than anyone else.

Why the difference? Pretty simple: doing math is a hell of a lot more fun than writing.
posted by escabeche at 7:02 PM on February 16 [7 favorites]


One thing that's especially difficult about writing is that, at least in my own experience as a mostly amateur writer, the deadlines and limits are pretty hazy. Especially since you don't have anyone sitting next to you demanding your pages so that X, Y, and Z thing can happen.

As I said above, lately I've been writing in the service of larger projects that have more steps. I never feel compelled to procrastinate on shopping for costumes, or making a map so everyone can find the location, or ordering props, or scheduling everything. I'm always early on set with coffee for everyone and a sense of when I'd like to be wrapped for the day and exactly how that's going to happen.

But, I don't know. Something about the act of writing really invites procrastination. And it's not because it's inherently not fun.
posted by Sara C. at 7:08 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded of an irritated note sent home by a particularly wry teacher.

Joe would rather write a ten page paper explaining why he should not have to write an assigned five page paper.

So much of my life, including my writing life, explained.

Hmm.
posted by sonascope at 7:11 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


This article hit a nerve in me, reflecting on my experiences in the Malaysian education system, which had kind of the worst of both worlds - you had to work hard, but you were not allowed to fail or be bad at something.

If you weren't already showing genius-level aptitude or skill at something, you were berated and told to just drop the idea. For example, growing up I did not have the strongest skills in visual arts. Just about every teacher involved mocked me for "drawing like a 6 year old" and in one case even threw away my work. No scrap of encouragement whatsoever. It took me until a couple of years ago, in my mid-20s, to attempt a significant visual arts project that wasn't just me faffing about with a set of paints or Photoshop - and people really liked it.

At the same time, I was one of those annoying kids that did well at tests without really trying. Part of it was that I was a voracious learner - I read everything I could get my hands on, except my textbooks, because those were often either really boring or really outdated or full of misinformation. (My Commerce book in 2001 claimed that the newest tech advancement in business were brick-sized mobile phones. When a Letter to the Editor in a major newpaper pointed out that the opening chapter in our Form 4 History textbooks was debunked, the school's attitude was to ignore it and move on. And this was for one of the top schools, but it was a National curriculum and Teaching to the Test was mandatory.) I would work with Singaporean school workbooks for fun, kind of the precursor to Khan Academy, because even for the same grade level they tackled higher-level stuff.

And yet the most common comment I got from teachers was: "You have such unused potential; you could do so much better if you just applied yourself." They're right - I could. Except I had no avenue to apply myself. Teachers didn't bother giving me assignments after a while. My outside learning was not respected or acknowledged in school because it didn't follow the national curriculum. I didn't live anywhere where after-school activities that were not tuition centers were in abundance. (I'm working on a project that involves Malaysian youth and one of them talked about a community theater she's involved with. SO JEALOUS.) The Internet because my only outlet, and I was super-productive in fandom.

One of the few times I was challenged, in a good way, in school was when our school participated in the University of New South Wales's ICAS tests. An 80-question English exam which tested you on all sorts of English language skills. I hate tests normally, but I loved this. It was fascinating! It felt like a puzzle! It wasn't the easiest thing ever, but it actually used my brain! My effort and interest counted for something! (I earned a Distinction one year and the school's only High Distinction the next. My school owes me medals.)

I saw this pattern happening with a lot of my peers in Malaysian schools too - you were supposed to work hard, but only in a particular form and with particular subjects, and if you weren't already demonstrating innate talent you shouldn't bother. No encouragement of non-tested skill sets. No support for when you mess up or fail. Failure was a huge no-no - if you dared fail even one of your exams, you fail at life. FOREVER.

I went back to my school a couple of years after I finished to talk to my juniors. Mostly I told then that even if they got straight Fs or didn't get into Medicine or didn't want to go into Medicine, they're ok. They're worth more than their grades. For the first time in my schooling life, I saw these kids cheer. Because someone told them that they were more than just their grades, that their humanity counts for something.

I am pretty much the model of the procrastinator in this article: I do still get huge bouts of perfectionistic Impostor Syndrome THIS MUST BE THE BEST THING EVAR OR ELSE IT IS POINTLESS and it still surprises me sometimes how there are things that I think are slap-dash but other people think are really good. I do know that I do work well if I know that my effort and energy actually counted for something - unfortunately I have (and still am) been in too many situations where it seemed like they wouldn't care if I just submitted something last-minute, it's all the same, and I only have so much energy in a day so why expend it on somewhere that wouldn't appreciate it? I wonder if that's what affecting other people in our position: the feeling that it makes no difference the amount of effort you put into something, no one really cares.

I really want more Malaysian students and educators to read this. I recently interviewed for Teach for Malaysia, whose aim is to "transform" education in Malaysia for those of low socio-economic backgrounds - yet their benchmarks seem to be primarily based on grades. I read accounts from former and current fellows, many of whom are dedicated to transformational pedagogy - but they were still stuck in the mindset of "if my students don't get Straight As they have failed", never mind all the systemic and institutional problems that make scoring well in tests difficult in the first place. What do they do if the students don't hit their benchmarks? What do they do if the students do hit their benchmarks but their lives don't necessarily change for the better because of factors greater than just their grades? What if they decide to prioritise something else, such as family or livelihood - are they failures?

I asked TfM those questions in an email but never got a reply. I didn't get past the interview round. I do hope their next round of fellows will be able to tell their students that even if they fail or mess up, they are still willing to be there for their students at any stage.
posted by divabat at 7:16 PM on February 16 [18 favorites]


Also, unlike with other things, it's not possible to really tell if you're doing a good job.

At least withing lighting or props, you know you did your job if the lighting is right and the props corrects.
posted by The Whelk at 7:23 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


I thought that programmers procrastinated by spending two days to write a script to do something that would have only taken four hours to do manually.

And the script doesn't work right.
posted by maxwelton at 7:29 PM on February 16


Well, Stephen King has done it again...
posted by zippy at 7:41 PM on February 16


Still working on my comment for this article.... It's not quite up to snuff yet. I'm gonna need a little more time.

....

Wow. I never realized my carpets were so stained. I wonder if it's too late at night to rent a steam cleaner.
posted by wabbittwax at 8:08 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Enuff Stephen King, here's his son on a true cause of procrastination and his cure.
posted by Ber at 8:20 PM on February 16 [7 favorites]


I'm reminded of an irritated note sent home by a particularly wry teacher.

Joe would rather write a ten page paper explaining why he should not have to write an assigned five page paper.


This is the source of all progress and advancement in this world. But it is only slightly misguided. He should write a paper explaining why he and at least two other students should not have to write an assigned five page paper.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:14 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Here's how a wise older colleage managed to get ego out of programming for me. I was taught a very strong lesson about programming by him long ago, back in the days before fonts, networks, and reliable hardware... it went like this:
Once the program was done, and "ready". He got a random user from the plant floor, and carefully explained what he wanted that person to do using my program. He then told me to shut up, and just watch.

The first time the user got lost and needed help, he didn't know what to do (I had built help, but he didn't know to hit F1)... a few sessions like that and all ego was gone from programming for me, and I was user-centric for life.

After 2 more months of getting it really ready, we met all the requirements. The customer had the system they asked for, delivered within a reasonable timeframe. We then figured out what they really needed, now that the delivered system prototype was ready to throw away, and be replaced by something actually usable.
Now if I could only do that in other areas of life, I'd be a much happier camper. I think you folks here in the Blue have greatly helped point the way...

Thanks!
posted by MikeWarot at 9:22 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Top 10 reasons why I procrastinate:

1.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 9:31 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


The elephant in the room is working at home.
posted by Segundus at 9:53 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


I read this article earlier this week and it struck a nerve with me. That might be because I'm sitting here staring at a manuscript that's 7 months later, 25,000 words over contract and still has gaps to be filled and is "final" in 2 weeks. Wee....

And what am I doing - am i knee deep in the buffer to my left, nope, I'm reading comments and thinking about opening this bottle of beer to my right.

And to make it worse - I'm a professional programmer by day and a semi-professional writer at night and I use both to procrastinate at the other!
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:40 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


A bit naughty not to mention this was written by old two by four, which would've saved me precious seconds not clocking over to the article. She knows as much about actual writers as she does about anything else.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:03 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Procrastination is actually the symptom not the malady. I am just not that talented and my life is a failure. So I keep watching the clock and waiting for death, hoping it won't upset people too much.

Either that or I'm just miserable because the Snowboarding has been cancelled and I've finished binge-watching Chuck.

"There's something out there waiting for us, and it ain't no man.

We're all gonna die."
posted by fullerine at 12:34 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I'm procrastinating on re-writing my resume

Your search is over. http://xmlresume.sourceforge.net

Either you'll get it redone in short order, or you've just discovered the rabbit-hole you didn't know you were looking for.

XML makes EVERYTHING better.
posted by mikelieman at 5:02 AM on February 17


Doesn't sound crazy in the slightest. It's my absolute, #1 stumbling block.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:06 AM on February 17


It's also the basis for my pet hypothesis that people for whom something comes easily and naturally tend to make poor teachers of that subject if they aren't careful.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:08 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


The elephant in the room is working at home.

Ross, founding editor of the New Yorker, got nervous when he didn't wear typewriters going all day, so the writers on staff realized pretty quickly to just make lots of random typewriter smashing sounds to keep him from going ape shit.
posted by The Whelk at 5:58 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


The best writers are not necessarily the kids who got A's in English, but those who can observe, think and put it into a story. This includes a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. A good editor can hammer out the little details.
posted by waving at 10:21 AM on February 17


This all rang fairly, if a bit obviously, true, right up until the bizarre digression into millennial-bashing.

Actually, if anything, it felt like an apologia for Gen Y, since millennials can blame the lack of struggle on overprotective helicopter parents, who possibly are those damned dirty Boomers. Not only are the latter responsible for Too Big to Fail, they allowed their children to Not Fail and Not Grow Big. It's not the millennials' fault for being coddled.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:17 PM on February 17


Plus there's the whole thing about whatever.


And the bvig to fail.
Need to fix a typo? Edit
Time Remaining to Edit: 4:45
posted by Smedleyman at 3:38 PM on February 17


The elephant in the room is working at home.

Well, sure. Elephants can't fit through the front doors of most offices.
posted by hades at 7:33 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


Why the difference? Pretty simple: doing math is a hell of a lot more fun than writing.

If there is any relationship at all between how easy something came to you at school and the chances of you procrastinating at it, I'd speculate the relationship is non-monotonic.

My guess would be it might look like the Wikipedia example of non-monotonic even.

- If you really struggled with something, you avoid it as long as possible, as you believe failure is pretty much inevitable.

- If you did ok with considerable effort, you tend to get stuck in and work at it. You know you'll need all the time you can get, but expect to have some degree of success if you put enough hours in.

- If things came easy and your work was acclaimed, yet you had failures too, there is room to develop an imposter syndrome. You're reluctant to start as you dread any failure and being found out to not be good enough after all.

- If you aced everything pretty much all the time, you have supreme confidence and are always up for the work. You believe that you'll almost certainly succeed, and if for some reason you don't, it'll be because the thing is super hard or inherently intractable, and that will not mean anything about you.

There's probably nothing like math when it comes to people being able to ace it to that extent in school.
posted by philipy at 11:45 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


This begins as a meditation on writing, but then quickly degenerates into conservative pop psychology about millenials. Hence, this deplorable nonsense:

About six years ago, commentators started noticing a strange pattern of behavior among the young millennials who were pouring out of college. Eventually, the writer Ron Alsop would dub them the Trophy Kids. Despite the sound of it, this has nothing to do with “trophy wives.” Rather, it has to do with the way these kids were raised. This new generation was brought up to believe that there should be no winners and no losers, no scrubs or MVPs. Everyone, no matter how ineptly they perform, gets a trophy.

Who are these "commentators"? I wonder...

This is certainly not the case in the UK. The comment, in fact, suggests that despite her obvious intelligence, this person suffers from an instinctive belief that there is something valuable and morally important about any hierarchy, just because it is a hierarchy, and however that hierarchy is created or structured. That is a morally insane belief, at the root of a vast amount of human suffering; it is a peculiar sort of moral rot that twists the judgments of otherwise fairly intelligent people towards uncompromising and absurd conclusions.

In the meantime, I would suggest looking elsewhere for insight. The comments on writing, whilst true, are fairly trivial points of the sort that most practicing writers (or people who know practicing writers) realize fairly quickly. They also have a slight air of that resentful, sneering, one-sided hatred of liberal arts people that seems to go down so well among a certain kind of right-wing engineer or businessman.

A small amount of digging reveals that this is a person whose career has basically been flattering the rich (whilst presenting herself as a tough truth-teller). For example, from the link:

In 2006, McArdle published an article in Reason, a magazine controlled by the Kochs since the 1970's, headlined, "The Virtue of Riches: How Wealth Makes Us More Moral". McArdle's article argued that wealth makes people "more tolerant of minorities, more welcoming to immigrants, more solicitous of their fellow citizens, more supportive of democratic institutions, and just plain better specimens of humanity." In fact, studies show that the wealthiest Americans are more likely to lie and steal, while the poor donate proportionally much more of their incomes to charity.

She sounds like a rather unpleasant character, really.
posted by lucien_reeve at 4:20 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


All that you need to know about McArdle is that she originally blogged under the name "Jane Galt".
posted by octothorpe at 5:40 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]


I don't really understand the connection between writing, procrastination, and millennials.

I think it's pretty clear that writers have always procrastinated. I don't get what it has to do with the current crop of twenty-somethings.

Is this like how everybody thinks their generation invented sex? Does everybody think the generation below them invented slacking off?
posted by Sara C. at 9:28 AM on February 18


I have a framed print from Punch magazine (circa 1890) on my wall of a dapper man lying on a couch smoking "A little hard work never killed anybody, but why risk it?"
posted by The Whelk at 9:29 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]


This new generation was brought up to believe that there should be no winners and no losers, no scrubs or MVPs. Everyone, no matter how ineptly they perform, gets a trophy.
It was never "everybody is the same nobody is special."
It was nobody is that special.

They grew up with the Boomers in charge, no wonder they're sceptical of people who are obsessed with winners and losers. Victory without effort, where the fuck do you think they learned that?
posted by fullerine at 10:57 AM on February 18


I don't really understand the connection between writing, procrastination, and millennials.

I think it's pretty clear that writers have always procrastinated. I don't get what it has to do with the current crop of twenty-somethings.


I'm missing something here, too. What is the author's point? Her initial thesis is that writers procrastinate because they excelled at English class and did not learn appropriate work habits as a result. Then it delves into motivation, then millenials, then elite schooling.

She's procrastinated so long on the article that she had to adapt it from a book and end it abruptly with no coherent conclusion.
posted by GrapeApiary at 12:06 PM on February 18


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