I have a confession to make. Over the course of the last twenty years — writing somewhere in the region of five thousand blog posts, I suspect my main achievement has been the discovery of an almost inexhaustible supply of means through which I might procrastinate.
I thought it might be worth sharing a few of the most prevalent strategies — to act as a warning of sorts to others — so they might recognise behaviours in themselves, and do something about it.
That’s the problem really though, isn’t it — “doing something about it”. Taking any sort of action flies in the face of what this is all about because in doing so, we lose out on the chance to do all the other things, which we suspect might be far more interesting.
Let’s get started.
There will always be something to do first
Almost every time I sit down with the intention of writing — even if I have an idea in my head of what I want to write about, an avalanche of chores will present themselves that had not occurred to me before.
Sitting in front of the computer, in relative peace and quiet, alerts me to the absence of sound throughout the house. The dishwasher has finished it’s run — it’s time to empty it, and transfer its contents into the kitchen cupboards. I can’t hear the washing machine. I have three daughters — the washing machine is never silent. I could be hanging the previous load of washing out to dry, and re-filling the machine to go again.
I sometimes anthropomorphise the washing machine — inventing a character for it — imagining the daily struggle to make it through the endless loads of washing — like some kind of gulag hard-labour prison sentence.
Walking into the kitchen will always result in a sink full of washing up that needs to be washed, or a draining board full of recently washed pots and pans that need to be put away. So why not walk into the kitchen, if you know the job will be waiting for you? You know if you don’t, the thought will only pull at the loose ends of your writing brain.
There is always a better text editor
After running out of chores to do around the house, I finally sit in front of the computer, switch it on, and half-expect some sort of update to appear. Any waiting updates will, of course, need to be done, because what sort of monster leaves a computer with pending updates?
After the inevitable reboot, we are finally about to begin writing something. The only decision left is where and how — and unfortunately, there are any number of options, each of which will seem preferrable on a given day.
Are we using Notepad today? How about Notion, Evernote, or Google Docs? We could write directly into Ghost, Medium, WordPress, or Tumblr. How about the latest beta of Scrivener?
We could, of course, start up the laptop we constructed to purposely defeat this mad little rabbit hole — the Linux laptop, installed with an Amiga emulator, and an early 1990s installation of Protext. The only problem there, of course, is that we also installed Turbotext, Wordworth, Wordperfect, and Wordstar.
There is always a better way to organise your writing
We are sitting in front of the computer, we have chosen our writing tool, and we are ready to go. All we need to do is save the empty file, so we don’t lose our work. Where are we going to save it?
If we write online, our words will be saved as we type — but then we agonise that somebody will steal or shut down the account, losing them forever. We, therefore, work out strategies to backup our words — before we have written them.
This is where my software and web development background greases the slope I’m already sliding down. I am the proud owner of a Python script that exports WordPress backups into Markdown format. I am also the proud owner of a private GitHub repository, filled with every piece of writing I’ve done since 2003. I constructed all of this instead of actually writing anything.
In recent months I have been tinkering with Notion — an online database and organisation swiss-army-knife, that opens up an entire realm of procrastination opportunities — allowing you to arrange, sort, tag, filter, and tinker with writing, notes, links, and so on in much the same way as Scrivener — except instead of being designed as a writing tool, it’s designed as an everything tool — so you rapidly end up turning it into a bullet journal, a shopping list, a fitness tracker, and so many other things — even though you already had perfectly good solutions for those too.
There is always a better blog platform
My personal blog — the almost daily journal about everything and nothing — has lived at WordPress for years. It hasn’t always lived at WordPress though — and I very much doubt it will continue to live at WordPress — because new platforms are always arriving, and they always seem so tempting.
I convince myself that I’m trying platforms out as some kind of noble mission — I will be able to share my knowledge with the wider community, and delight in my own usefulness. We all know the reason I’m moving platforms is that it avoids having to actually write anything, don’t we? It explains how I ended up writing at Vox, LiveJournal, Diaryland, Tumblr, WordPress, Posterous, Posthaven, WordPress again, Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, WordPress again, Ghost, Medium, and on on.
I invariably return to WordPress.
There is always another browser tab
If I ever invent a time machine, I think perhaps one of the first candidates for a “visit” will be the person that invented the multi-tabbed web browser.
It’s too easy, once settled into an online writing environment, to open another tab — and before you know it you’re reading an endless stream of very important news at Feedly or Pocket. Even though you live half a world away, a visit to Twitter will provide endless entertainment — finding out what “Real Donald Trump” has had a tantrum about overnight. A quick game of blitz chess can be had with a fellow procrastinator — and then another, and another.
I sometimes wonder if I should use my development skills to invent a browser extension that tells me off for tabbing away from whatever I’m writing. We all know I wouldn’t use it though, right — and the effort involved in building it would just be yet another distraction — another chance to avoid actually writing anything.
Originally published at https://jonbeckett.com on December 29, 2020.