I was up late last night making some requested edits to an article about using digital tools to guide and encourage student reflection. About 10:15pm, I hit a wall. I was tempted to attach the file to an email and hurl it into the electronic ether. But, instead, I printed out the paper and started editing, catching a few silly mistakes and elaborating to fill in some holes. Feeling relatively happy with the article, I submitted it a day ahead of the deadline.
None of last night’s events would be particularly remarkable, except for the departure that they represent from how I wrote for so long.
During college, my strategy was to leave papers until the last conceivable hour and then write them in a flurry of David Gray and clementine-fueled panic. The deadline would come. I would email or print the paper and collapse. The attraction of this strategy was that it always gave me an out. If I didn’t feel pleased with the work (often the case) or received a lower grade than I’d hoped, I had an easy excuse- if I’d just had more time, the work would have been better.
Grad school wasn’t any better. I printed out my master’s thesis and slid it under my advisor’s door 10 minutes before the deadline. It was short of the length requirement, and I have never been so embarrassed to submit a paper. I still cringe a little when I think about it. All my agonizing and procrastinating was cover for the anxiety I wouldn’t articulate, even to myself. I wasn’t sure more time would allow me to improve my writing. I didn’t know if I could write it better.
The writing I do now is more often of my own choosing. I often still get to a place in writing where I’m ready to chuck it. When that point hits I have the luxury of putting something aside for a week or two and then coming back to it if I care about it. I still have deadlines, but they’re usually farther out and feel more chosen than foist upon me.
I’ve started sending pieces to others- friends, colleagues, teachers who follow me on Twitter. They graciously read early drafts, ask questions, suggest changes, and reassure me that whatever I’ve written usually isn’t as awful as I imagine it. Having people willing to read these early drafts gives me the release I need and some direction in editing. That’s not to say I don’t still procrastinate, but my anxiety level around writing seems lower than it once was.