Check out any writer’s thoughts on writing, and you’ll read of procrastination, of blinking cursors and glaring white space, of hours spent composing what amounts to, essentially, birdcage lining. When I left my job to become a full-time student/teacher/writer, I knew I’d be dealing with all of those things, not only because I’d been warned, but also because I’d met me before.
In college, one of my favorite AIM away messages was, “Risa Polansky: Procrastinating since 1983.” (I was born in 1983. It’s funny because babies can’t procrastinate.) My routine, which I have come to understand is not as unique or quirky as I used to like to think, has always been this: wake up early on what I have designated in advance – and therefore left any and all work undone until – a “Productive Day.” Sit at computer only to be confronted by the indisputable realization that I just cannot work in this mess! Neaten my area.
In high school, “my area” was my bedroom in my parents’ house, and, oh yeah, Mom said I had to clean out old clothes to give to charity before I’m allowed to get any new clothes, so now is probably the best time to start. (I always put those less fortunate ahead of writing projects I’m dreading – I can’t help it, my heart’s just so big.)
In college, “my area” was my half of a bedroom in a sorority house. On writing days, one of my forty-six roommates would inevitably be on her way to the store, and I didn’t have a car, so it was only logical that I seize the opportunity and tag along. Grocery shopping is, after all, productive. Especially when you’re out of Swedish Fish.
Post-college, “my area” was my studio apartment in South Beach, which was approximately one-third as nice as my half-bedroom in the sorority house. Because my writing space was also my bedroom and my living room and my kitchen, “neatening my area” could take all day. All weekend, even.
When I left my desk job last year, our guestroom became “my area,” and I knew if I wanted to get anything written in there, I’d need some inspiration. Off to Etsy I went in search of a framed print that would get my creative juices flowing. I’d hoped to find one featuring Cheryl Strayed’s “Write Like a Motherfucker,” but I didn’t, and also my husband said I couldn’t hang anything in the house with the word “fucker” in it. Eventually I settled on a Picasso: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” The thing was, I didn’t have time to wait for it to be printed and shipped – I had writing to write! – and also it didn’t match my desk’s aesthetic.
So here I sit, looking at my do-it-yourself print (don’t worry, I made sure to decoupage the matting). It took hours to make, took weeks to get it and my room and my act together, and, spoiler alert, Pablo’s words of wisdom don’t always do the trick. His quote is to my right, but so is the window, and outside the window is the pool. To my left is the laundry room, and wouldn’t it be nice to have freshly washed clothes. And wouldn’t it be nice to watch Netflix while I fold! And the napping. And the Facebooking. And the napping.
You get it, not just because I’ve beaten you over the head with it, but because you’ve been there. Maybe you’re there right now. In which case, I’ll leave you alone, and I’ll leave you with this: this morning I sat down at my computer. I checked my personal email, perused a blog (or forty-five), blacked out, came to, and found myself in bed reading Sloane Crosley. But when I finished, I sat back down and I wrote this. It’s not going to win any awards, but it’s a series of letters on a page that could lead to more letters on more pages, and you know what they say: the journey to a thousand Pulitzers begins with a single word. So write one (or forty-five) today! I plan to keep going, too. I just need to run out and get a frame for that Pulitzer saying real quick.
Risa Polansky Shiman is one thesis away from an MFA. She and Chipotle will celebrate their fifteenth anniversary next year.