“I hate writing. I love having written.”
I’ve seen this quote floating around writers’ spaces on the internet for years now. I’ve seen it attributed to Ernest Hemingway or George R. R. Martin, among others. Its actual origin is difficult to trace. Whoever said it first, it’s a common adage among writers, and it’s one of the writing world’s most startling truths.
When people think of writers, they want to imagine the great American novelist meticulously chipping away at their next work in a pristine study, or an enthusiastic young writer hunched over they keyboard at 4 AM, smashing out a magical adventure. There is a little truth to most myths, and I am certain that somewhere out there, some great novelists are doing exactly that. But most writers will tell you that it’s a thousand times harder than it looks.
That is a strong consensus among the writing community. Writing it hard. There are some different ideas about how to best confront the blank page, but there is one habit that I am becoming increasingly wary of: the cult of procrastination.
When I say ‘cult’, I don’t mean in the faith-based sense. I mean it in the less literal way, defined by Dictionary.com as “a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing”. And there is certainly a section of the online writing community that highlights procrastination.
Now, I’m not saying anybody actually venerates procrastination. It’s a bad thing, and we know it. But in my experience, writing spaces online are saturated with self-deprecating humor about procrastination. When I scroll through social media or browse writing forums, the most common joke format I see is: “I should be writing, but instead I’m doing X.”
Please keep in mind that this is observational. I don’t have any hard data on how many jokes, tweets, or memes fit this category. But this is what I see. And for a long time, I participated. I would smile at these jokes and throw them a like or an upvote, acknowledge the truth, and move on without much thought. My most popular tweet to date was a joke along these lines – one that I personally regarded as low-effort but fun, which I imagine many think when they post them. It got roughly four times the number of interactions as any other tweet I’d made before or since.
That’s what got me to thinking about this. I’d always viewed this humor in a certain way: it’s just a way to blow off steam. Writing is daunting and often frustrating. It makes sense that people will make jokes about the most difficult parts of the process.
After noticing how much attention my own procrastination joke got, I realized just how common they really were. I started to see it everywhere. I wondered if it was a bit of frequency illusion, or if I’d discovered a strange echo chamber hidden in plain sight. There are new examples every time I check my social media, and they get a lot of attention.
I wondered, wasn’t it a little bit strange for so many people so spend so much time congratulating each other on procrastination? Does it hit a point where the humor isn’t funny anymore?
For me, it did. The jokes stopped being funny. I started to think about it the same way I view other forms of self-deprecation. When I’m having a hard day, it’s so easy to say “I’m trash, why do I even try?”. Maybe my friends will laugh if I deliver it in a witty way. But it hits the point where I believe it.
But sometimes, the jokes feel good anyway, even if I know I’m only using them to laugh off a hard truth.
So what about these “I’m not writing, instead I’m doing X” posts? Well, I’m still not sure what I’m looking at. It could be that I’m hanging out on the parts of the internet where they are most common. Maybe on professional writing forums (some of which require subscriptions), this kind of talk is non-existent. Maybe it’s the nature of social media, where this kind of humor is most easily shared, and it becomes artificially widespread. Or maybe that many people really feel like they need it, or just find it relatable and funny.
I don’t really think it’s all bad. Just like self-deprecating humor in other forms, I’m sure some people find it therapeutic. I just hope that people also think about the reasons they are so attracted to this conversation. How is repeating talk about procrastination helpful for someone who is trying to establish a healthy writing schedule?
Personally, I think letting myself cling to this kind of discourse made it easier for me to excuse my own procrastination. I’d tell myself that it was okay because everyone else was obviously going through it too, and the memes were funny. I’d click ‘like’ and scroll to the next one.
Now that I’ve caught myself in the echo chamber, I don’t find it so funny anymore. If you do, that’s okay. If you feel like you need it, that it doesn’t affect you, or it’s funny, that’s fine. I don’t want anyone to think I’m policing their humor, because I sure as hell don’t like it when someone does that to me. And in small doses, these jokes are a great way for struggling writers to realize they aren’t alone.
All I’m saying is this: when you find yourself making jokes at your own expense, please consider why. If you realize you’re scrolling through twitter instead of writing, then write. If you keep making jokes about being ‘trash’ and start to actually feel like trash, ask yourself if you’re saying those things for the right reason. Dark humor is great, and so is calling out the biggest frustrations in your life or work. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but please protect yourself. Don’t repeat something until it becomes true.