The importance of walking away – Lisa Henthorn

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By Lisa Henthorn

My whole life I’ve been a “get it done” type. Once I began working on something, whether that be cleaning out a closet or finishing up a writing piece, I would not be able to concentrate on anything else until I had completed the task. In many ways, that was a beneficial trait to have as a writer. Especially since I started my career writing for television, where there are a lot of overnight rewrites required and timeliness is a crucial part of the job description. I prided myself on my speed, equating my ability to write quickly to my overall competence as a writer. After all, who doesn’t like a quick turnaround?♥

Then one day I had lunch with a writer whom I respected greatly. He had offered to read some of my material and was sharing his thoughts with me. It was a great session, and I left excited to get back to my computer and address some of his concerns. I worked all night, the next day, and the next day after that, and upon finishing, sent him an email telling him I had a new draft. He was surprised I had already finished. His email back was something along the lines of, “Wow, that was quick.” Even in the tonal void email occupies, I sensed it wasn’t exactly a compliment.

I thought about it for a few days, not once looking at my material. Then I went back and reread my new draft. What I had thought was ready for the world to see suddenly needed more work. There were some story issues I hadn’t noticed before, some characters who could use some more defining, and even some typos I had missed. That’s when it hit me. Those days I had spent not working had given me a perspective I hadn’t had while caught up in the desire to finish. I would have sent out a subpar piece of material because I was too driven or impatient to sit with it and be a little more thoughtful. I was valuing expediency over quality without even realizing it.

I recently came across an article in the New York Times by Adam Grant (Originals) that explored the value of procrastination. It turns out Steve Jobs was a constant procrastinator, as is a long list of other highly successful individuals. What Grant learned through his research is that our first ideas are usually the most conventional and allowing some time to think more about something sparks creativity. Or, as Grant puts it, “Begin a task early, but delay completing it so you have time for incubation and space for divergent thinking.”

This was life-changing information for someone like me. I decided to try it out, and began actively trying to take my time. Whereas I used to be a slave to a self-imposed writing schedule, regardless of how inspired or creative I was feeling, I now let myself walk away and think about the story, coming back when I felt confident about a solution. Before, I’d want to send off a piece as soon as I finished, but now, I take at least a few days to disconnect entirely before returning with a fresh pair of eyes and reinvigorated desire to perfect what is on the page. It’s not easy for me, and I constantly battle against the feeling that I’m taking too long or being lazy. There’s always the danger of letting yourself procrastinate too long, which can lead to missed deadlines and a rushed final product. But overall, I’ve found letting a little procrastination into my process has been incredibly helpful. Not only has it made the writing itself less stressful, it’s enriched what actually ends up on the page.

I know it’s a very common thing for writers on Instagram and Twitter to use the hashtag “amwriting”. That’s a great way to promote your work and to motivate yourself and others. But maybe, just maybe, it’d be worthwhile to throw in the occasional “amprocrastinating” too. You might find it as helpful as I have.


Lisa Henthorn is a television writer who wrote on the CBS show Swingtown, the CW show The Beautiful Life, and the A&E show The Glades. She lives in Santa Monica, California with her husband. Her novel 25 Sense is out now.

@footnotebylisa

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