Last updated on January 18, 2020
“Procrastination is the thief of time.” Edward Young, 18th Century British Poet
What kind of distractions would an early 18th century writer find to keep them from putting pen to paper? The evenings of the well-to-do would be full of parties, dances, the theater, or games. By day, they might visit friends, travel abroad, or refurbish their homes. The impoverished would, of course, be more worried about day-to-day survival: earning enough to pay for food, clothing, and shelter. Though we might consider the 1700s to be a simpler time with fewer distractions, that wasn’t the case. The dreaded time thief procrastination could be just as much a problem then as it is today.
In the early 21st century, modern authors have the added distraction of being able to use the internet to access a world’s worth of information spanning the history of the human race from the comfort of their own home. We have TV shows, movies, video games, etc. Plus, we still have the same distractions as our 18th century counterparts to go along with all the newer ones.
Why has procrastination been such an issue for writers?
This article in The Atlantic from February of 2014 discusses why authors are the worst procrastinators. The one that resonates most with me is imposter syndrome – or the fear of being unmasked as a fraud. Even when I’ve done what I feel is my best writing, I often think my work is not up to the standards of the truly great writers. Doing everything but getting my words down on paper gives me an excuse not to risk embarrassing exposure as an imposter. If I don’t write, I won’t be embarrassed.
Yet I can’t not write. When I watch TV or a movie, read a book, do housework or whatever else I might be doing instead of writing I’m always thinking about current or future WIPs. If my mind can’t give up the idea of writing, why can’t I sit down and work? Wouldn’t that be easier than stressing about what I want to (or should) do?
Did poet Edward Young write about the time thief all those many years ago because he suffered from the same problem? Was his education a form of procrastination? Or did he avoid putting pen to paper by dancing or game playing? I’d love to know what issues might have prevented him from getting down to work and to learn what means he used to get around them.
My chosen form of procrastination at the moment is writing this blog post instead of working on my current project. Is reading this yours?
Time for us to lock away that horrible time thief and get down to the real business at hand. How else will someone from the early 24th century wonder what we did in order to settle down to write?