In addition to the joys and perils of procrastination outlined in my chapter “Just Write the Friggin’ Thing Already!” in The Science Writers’ Handbook, putting off meaningful work can often lead to unexpected creative expression.
Consider this time in September 2007: An editor had asked me to cut a 3,000-word piece in half. Ugh! After slaving over the darned thing for weeks, that was the last task I wanted to tackle. I didn’t have the heart to slice and dice, so I tidied my office instead. I mean, I REALLY tidied my office. Then I took a bunch of pictures and posted them on our SciLance site. “Announcing: SciLance Cribs,” I trumpeted to the group.
The next thing I knew, SciLancers across the continent were joining my procrastination frenzy: They posted photos of idyllic, handcrafted, straw bale writing studios (Michelle); neat living room corners (Jill); in-office hammocks (Mark); and just about every conceivable office set-up around. The pictures also showed chief creative officers, copy editors and taskmasters — like Kendall’s chocolate lab, Sarah’s parrot (Peanut), and Brian’s cat. Because we fit our writing lives around our family lives, assorted shots of kids doing very non-officey things in their parents’ workspaces were also common. Alison’s office even sported an actual crib.
Ninety-six snapshots later, we all had deeper insight into the individuals at the receiving end of our cries for help — and a much richer sense of community.
That’s why we’ve decided to revisit our cribs here in a feature we’re calling SciLance Writing Labs.
Welcome to mine …
Welcome to my Writing Lab.
This is my morning commute.
It takes me from here
To here in 15 steps.
Unfortunately, it does not go by here.
This is my office in 360 degrees on a good day. There’s really only been one good day, though. It was sometime in 2010.
This is what my desk usually looks like. It’s a mess.
Those big windows are key to my writing process and to my sanity.
There’s always something interesting going on out there.
When I tire of staring at the trees, I stare at this.
It’s a painting of a rock outcrop from Georgian Bay in Ontario by Ed Bartram. I love thinking about the geological forces that created the patterns.
The reason that my desk is such a mess is that I do all my writing by hand on paper. I use a mechanical pencil—I know, it’s so retro. It’s a throwback to my days as a field geologist.
Once I have a first draft, I type it up editing as I go.
But then I have to print it out and do the second, third, and fourth edits by hand.
I make sure to reuse the backsides of the paper or I fold it in half for my to-do lists.
Once I’ve filled every blank space I shred the paper and put it on our compost pile.
When I start to bog down and even these guys can no longer help me out, I know I need a break, that’s when I head outside.
Fortunately, when I’m sorting out structure or searching for a lead, I have lots of options for creative procrastination.
A walk or run up the road.
A search for ripe tomatoes.
Even a swim in the pond … but not right now!
When I come back to my office, I’m always ready to tackle the next step.
But I can easily get lost in my work and lose complete track of time.
That’s why I’m lucky to have Miss Tabitha.
She’s my secret weapon.
At the end of the day, she parks herself next to my chair and talks to me –loudly—until I head downstairs to feed her.
Tabitha always gets her way!