June 4, 2013

Fighting the blank page: how famous writers stopped procrastinating


Do you tell people you’re writing a novel? It might be better to go with something like, “I am trying to write a novel,” because if you are indeed tackling the daunting task of compiling words into a longer work, more than half of your time will be spent fighting the urge to look away from the blank page. You may very well spend years in denial of what you’re attempting to conceive. But that’s okay, really. The fact of the matter is that a lot of time will be spent on not writing.

The lapses tend to be frequent; they consist of long durations of doubt, feverish revising, planning, and eccentric ritualization of what might not matter in any other way than in that very moment being a need for a balance. In the war against procrastination and getting quality words onto the page, anything can help and everyone is a literary soldier searching for more ammunition.

A lot of the time, the only reason you keep going is due to your influences. It’s both admirable and daunting what they were capable of doing. Battle worn, they carry rituals and all sorts of items to both stave and inspire procrastination. Maybe it feels like nothing is working, totally out of ammunition. It might be why you’re reading this right now. It’s certainly why I’m writing it.

It’s interesting to discover what some of those rituals may have been. Truman Capote wrote horizontally, while Hemingway preferred to stand up while writing. Everyone has a ritual much like everyone loves a good read. What kind of routines did the literary heavyweights cultivate just to combat procrastination? What did they do to get away from the fight, if only for a few hours?

Thanks to Maria Popova and Shortlist, we get to read more about some of these odd, yet captivating rituals.


Michael Seidlinger is a Melville House intern.