There’s a certain phrase I’ve come to rely on whenever procrastination takes hold: Get your worthless ass out of the piazza.
It came to me via gonzo journalist and drug-taker extraordinaire Hunter S. Thompson, of all people. Thompson, who was notorious as the worst procrastinator of any working reporter, is the last person you’d turn to for procrastination-busting strategies. But this method of his works every time.
“Get your worthless ass out of the piazza” is the culminating phrase he shout-typed to writer Anthony Burgess. Back in 1973, during Thompson’s tenure as chief of the National Affairs Desk at Rolling Stone, Burgess was loitering around Italy when he should have been writing. A novelist and occasional journalist, Burgess wasn’t exactly a callow amateur. He wrote more than 50 books, including A Clockwork Orange. But even he was prone to procrastination.
As Shaun Usher records in Letters of Note Volume 2: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience, “In August 1973 [Burgess] found himself in Rome struggling to conjure up a ‘thinkpiece’ owed to Rolling Stone magazine. Defeated, he suggested ‘a 50,000-word novella I’ve just finished, all about the condition humaine etc.”
Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner knew how to deal with procrastination. He forwarded Burgess’s letter to the master procrastinator, Thompson.
Thompson promptly fired off a profanity-laden response to Burgess.
“Dear Mr. Burgess,
Herr Wenner has forwarded your useless letter from Rome to the National Affairs Desk for my examination and/or reply.
Unfortunately, we have no International Gibberish Desk, or it would have ended up there.
What kind of lame, half-mad bullshit are you trying to sneak over on us? When Rolling Stone asks for “a thinkpiece”, goddamnit, we want a fucking Thinkpiece… and don’t try to weasel out with any of your limey bullshit about a “50,000 word novella about the condition humaine, etc…”
Do you take us for a gang of brainless lizards? Rich hoodlums? Dilettante thugs?
You lazy cocksucker. I want that Thinkpiece on my desk by Labor Day. And I want it ready for press. The time has come & gone when cheapjack scum like you can get away with the kind of scams you got rich from in the past.
Get your worthless ass out of the piazza and back to the typewriter. Your type is a dime a dozen around here, Burgess, and I’m fucked if I’m going to stand for it any longer.
Hunter S Thompson”
Ouch. The shame, it burns. You can read and re-read the letter here during dawdling moments of lame, half-mad laziness. I sure do.
Now get your worthless ass out of the piazza.