I’ve never been an outliner. I would consider myself, at least at various times in my life, an avid writer, but never an outliner. I never cared for the school exercises in which you were forced to make an outline and then adhere to it. I’m sure this is a very helpful tool for many, but it has never been a part of my process.
I had never been a procrastinator. Not that I remember anyway. I was the kind of student that would finish homework on a Friday so that I could have the rest of the weekend carefree. I was more like that in high school than I was in college, and now as a graduate student it’s a wonder to me that I was ever like that.
As I writhed in agony last weekend trying to prepare a fifteen-minute presentation for my class, I wondered at what point procrastination had crept so sneakily into my life. Lately, I have been feeling the pain on many school assignments and professional assignments and even my own personal assignments, though I’m still not one to wait until the last minute to start or finish something. I understand there’s a deadline ahead, and I start early, leaving me more time to agonize that I should be working instead of playing bejeweled for the hundredth time.
It finally hit me that I was not and am not a procrastinator, I am simply an agonizer. I remember it well from high school and college, the absolute dread that I was going to have to do a bit of work, maybe exert some effort, and all the bitching and moaning about it until that miraculous point at which it is done. It’s all part of my process. What a terrible process.
Still, any attempts to change the process – to outline or in some manner sstreamline things – have been feeble and abandoned quickly. I take a kind of evolutionary approach to my topics. I know how I want to start and if I’m lucky I have a few ideas in my head of what I want to hit along the way, but where it ends up is as much a mystery to me as it is to you. Editing is a different (and much bigger) process entirely, in which I take my beginning and put it in the middle and rearrange all that word vomit I puke onto the page into something…well…edible. (See, I told you I didn’t know where I was going.)
Though I think I could improve my processes vastly with only minor attitude adjustments, I have to say that the bitching and moaning part of the process, when done correctly, can be quite lucrative. And no, I won’t tell you how to do it correctly because then it would be less special when I do it. I also think that the older I get, the more schooling I have and the more things that I successfully complete lead to this kind of subliminal logic that if all that stuff got done before, it’ll somehow get done again.
I can’t say that I love this process, but I continue with it because I like the results. I always do pretty well. In fact, I found out just yesterday that a paper I wrote for a class I took summer quarter was one of the example papers for the same class this quarter. Not too shabby. And though I was extremely doubtful about the presentation I prepared, it was received extremely well. I’m not entirely sure if I can put that in the win column, but that part after the class is over and everybody comes up to me to tell me what a great job I did – I LOVE that part. It makes the whole process worthwhile. The only problem is it’s only retroactively worthwhile. It’s impossible to carry that feeling over to the next project or presentation because you just can’t be sure how it will be received.