How to Procrastinate Wisely, According to Writer Roxane Gay

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If you’ve ever been on the Internet, chances are you’ve stumbled across a thought-provoking essay by hyperprolific writer and English professor Roxane Gay. We wanted to find out how she finds time to watch Law & Order.

If there’s a through line in my work, it’s giving a damn about the world. Whether I’m writing fiction, nonfiction, or criticism, it’s about caring enough to speak up about what I think and feel. I read a lot, and I’ll think, “I have an opinion about this.” It will start from there. I’ll cook something, and I’ll think, "I’m going to blog about this."

I’m an insomniac. Theoretically, I sleep about four or five hours a day. Sometimes I don’t sleep at all. I live in the middle of nowhere, and there’s literally nothing to do. It’s the best cure-all for work I know. If you want to write this much, just move to a very small town in Illinois.

Twitter makes me feel as if I’m in a big, communal office space. I find that chatter helps me focus. I do a lot of my best thinking on Twitter!

If I’m in my office, I’m much better at focusing, because if I’m at home, I’m like, “Oh, Ina’s on the Food Network.”

At home, I mostly work in front of the TV, so I can watch Law & Order.

I think there’s value in procrastination. I do a lot of writing in my head, doing the work mentally before I ever commit something to paper. I think our minds are telling us something about what we’re ready to do and not do.

I love listening to music while I work. I make this list called “Music,” whatever I like at the moment. Right now, it’s a lot of Beyoncé, Lorde, Haim, and some sort of BS rap, of course. And some Lady Antebellum, my favorite guilty pleasure.

I read every day. Books. With magazines, I always have good intentions, but they’re sitting in a stack on my coffee table. The one magazine I read regularly is The Believer.

I write at airports, in hotel rooms, on planes. I’m going to be on the road for the next 10 days, and I have a reading or meeting in each place. But I have a bunch of free time and I don’t know anyone, so it’s easy to write. When I’m not at home, it’s very easy to focus.

Writing online has given me a thicker skin. I can deflect an argument in a way that’s productive. I’ve learned to figure out what is valid, and that has helped me become a better rhetorician.

My next novel is called The Year I Learned Everything. People are calling it YA. It’s about a young woman who has a really transformative year; she learns about love and finding herself and overcoming her past. It’s a novel told in diary entries. I love immersing myself in her voice.

I’m trying to make more time for human interaction, away from the laptop. On Sundays, I try not to make my phone the first thing that I look at.

You have to make space in your life for writing. I love to have fun and play. But I make time for writing. It’s a significant priority for me. You have to commit. It can’t be like, “Maybe I’ll do this.” You don’t have to write every day to be a good writer, but you can’t not write every day.

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June 29, 2014 - 8:00am
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