“I Can’t Tell if Procrastination Kills Creativity or is Essential to it.”

Grant Snider’s Twitter comment @grantdraws raises an interesting question. Does procrastination kill creativity, or is it essential to it? I’m certain Grant is thinking about that part of creativity where the artist or writer “mulls it over.” Chews on it a bit, allowing it to resonate with them. Puts it to a vote before the committee in their head. (Note: The chairman of this committee is your Internal Editor. The one member of the panel who tells you to re-write, re-write, re-write, then says it’s still no good.) A story, for example, often takes a long time to develop. It might begin with a single word, or a particular character. It might be totally subject-based. It could be inspired by a recent tragedy.

It is important to note, however, that procrastination has many highly descriptive synonyms. Could it be said that loafing inspires creativity? One of my best poems did come to me while loafing. What about delaying? How can delaying a project provide any positive outcome? Delaying is, well, simply not doing. Reminds me of the comment, “I’m going to try to write a poem.” According to the intergalactic wisdom of Yoda, there is no such thing as try. There is only do and not do. Some writers dabble in storytelling. Dabbling is akin to playing around, poking at a few words, trying to put them into sentences. Of course, puttering is another name for procrastinating. Doesn’t sound very productive. My favorite synonym for procrastinating is dilly-dallying. Takes me right back to my father’s admonishment: Stop dilly-dallying and get something done out there! You’re not going to the pool until the hedges are cut and the yard is mowed!

We cannot leave the definition of the word creativity out of this discourse. Creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work. When we create something, we turn new and imaginative ideas into reality. It involves the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, or providing entertainment. I’m sure you’ve heard that creativity involves “thinking outside the box.” Consider the comment, “a great artist is but a conduit for an expression that resonates with something that is greater than him.” There is participation here. Willingness. Openness. Procrastination is the antithesis of creativity. It basically shuts down that which is possible. And because all creative ideas are fleeting at best, putting off even the simple act of writing an idea down in your journal or notebook is almost a guarantee that the idea will be lost to you forever the minute you think of something else. Groceries, for instance.

Kurt Vonnegut said, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

There is nothing in Vonnegut’s statement that even hints at procrastination being good for creativity. Vonnegut is talking about leaping forward, immediately, leaning in to it, obeying your muse, grabbing a pen and paper, or sitting down at your laptop, and working. Creativity is work. Creativity is spontaneous. It is not achieved by sitting around, delaying, dilly-dallying, or puttering. Sentences, paragraphs, chapters, indeed entire books, get written by being written. Ruminating or mulling something over does, indeed, occur in the embryonic stage of creativity. This is the germination phase. Then there’s sprouting. After that comes pruning and watering and feeding, and then the harvesting.

I don’t see how procrastination can do anything but kill creativity.

3 Replies to ““I Can’t Tell if Procrastination Kills Creativity or is Essential to it.””

  1. Well, I took this course on learning, and there are two modes of learning: focused and diffuse mode.
    Focused mode happens when you are actively studying or writing about something-you’re putting the information in your brain.
    Diffuse mode happens while you are procrastinating or focusing on something else-your brain forms new connections about what ever you’ve been focusing on. Think of it as your brain learning the best way to process the information you’ve given it.
    So, personally, I think both active work-and some play that follows-are important to the creative process.


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