Productive Procrastination

When I was in college, I was required to take a documentary filmmaking class in order to get my mass communication degree. Over the course of the semester I was to make a 12-minute documentary, but there were a few smaller assignments along the way, plus the assignments for all my other classes.

During this time I convinced myself that as part of my documentary class, I should watch a lot of documentaries. I would learn what I liked and what I didn’t like, and it would ultimately help me make a better documentary by the end of the semester. And I wasn’t entirely wrong.

But I wasn’t entirely right either. Because the truth was I really just wanted an excuse to lay in bed and watch Netflix rather than doing actual homework. If I watched documentaries, I could lie to myself and say it was productive. If I watched Bob’s Burgers, maybe not so much.

It’s a problem that still persists today and sometimes I have to ask myself, out of all the creative/educational tasks I’ve assigned myself, which ones are really the amazing feats of intellect that will help me realize my dreams, and which ones are just the tasks I assign myself to distract me from the tasks I’m scared to attempt.

For example, I want to write a feature-length screenplay. I’ve already written one that I’m not particularly proud of and I think my portfolio needs a better one. The most productive thing would probably be to just write the damn movie.

But what about that copy of Save the Cat I bought but haven’t read yet? I mean surely I should read that book before I write my movie because it’s like the book all screenwriters are supposed to read and surely the movie I write will be better off for it, right?

What about these blog posts? Is critiquing movies and tv really helping me learn how to make my own scripts better? Or are they just a distraction from actual screenwriting?

I’m asking because a lot of times, I genuinely don’t know. I think there are a lot of things you can do besides writing that help your writing. That includes reading books about writing, talking about writing, and analyzing other people’s writing. But I also think sometimes as writers, the last thing we want to do is bite the bullet and actually write. So we convince ourselves that as a prerequisite, we have to read books about writing, talk about writing, and analyze other people’s writing.

We all know that procrastination is dangerous, but I think we especially need to be aware of the procrastination that disguises itself as productivity. We all, myself included, need to take on the projects that scare us; the projects that may very well end up as failures. We need to stop stressing over whether or not we’re prepared for them. That’s one of the most productive things we can do.

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