Fractals: The Purpose of the Pattern

Before I get into fractals (and I know you’re holding your breath until I do), let me first announce the winner of the Ice Cream Giveaway discussed in Monday’s post.


The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Phillip McCollum!

Congrats, Phillip! Please email me at this address—lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com—to let me know your snail mail address and phone number for package delivery purposes.

Now, about those fractals. . . . For some reason, I woke up the other day thinking of them. This is either because of the large amount of snow my area has received or because I’ve been doing a Lumosity workout every morning.

Anyway, according to Wikipedia:

A fractal is a mathematical set described by fractal Geometry, the study of figures exhibiting fractal dimension. A fractal set when plotted typically displays self-similar patterns, which means they are “the same from near as from far.” . . . The concept of fractal extends beyond trivial self-similarity and includes the idea of a detailed pattern repeating itself. (Emphasis added.)

But I probably didn’t have to tell you that. The Koch snowflake (below), developed by Swedish mathematician Niels Fabian Helge von Koch, is a fractal made of equilateral triangles. Dutch artist M. C. Escher also featured fractals in many of his illustrations.


Yeah, yeah. I know. You couldn’t possibly care less, right? Okay. I’ll get to the point. When I think of replicated patterns, I can’t help thinking of my writing. What I see replicated at times is a pattern of procrastination. When scenes seem insurmountable, I turn to other activities: games like Plants vs. Zombies, checking email, texting, or reading other people’s blogs. I even sometimes use my Lumosity workout, which takes a few minutes at most, as an excuse. (BTW: Ingrid Sundberg wrote a great post on measuring productivity:

So, as I began writing this post, I started to get down on myself about my procrastination. But after thinking about it, I decided to take a radical view and look for what’s positive about this pattern of behavior. No, I’m not crazy. I’m trying to follow the pattern of fractals in nature. If you’ve observed these patterns (snowflakes, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), you’ve seen the beauty in them. (BTW: The WebEcoist has beautiful photos of fractals in nature here:


Romanesco broccoli—another fractal

So, there had to be something good about my pattern of procrastination. And I discovered just what that something was. You see, I often procrastinate, believe it or not, when I’m going in the wrong direction in my writing. Only, I don’t often know right away that I’m going in the wrong direction. When I approach a scene for which I have no energy and no thoughts about how it could work; when I try to shoehorn a plot point into the narrative, thinking that someone might judge my story as boring without it, I immediately think of other things more enjoyable to do—like playing Plants vs. Zombies. However, when I’m writing a scene for which I have great emotional investment, I usually work on it until it’s done, with no interruptions other than the necessary ones (like going to the bathroom or eating chocolate).


Case in point: for the last few days I’ve been going in circles about adding to my novel some chapters involving a side quest. You see, one of my characters is dying at this point in the story. Yet I had great plans of writing a couple of chapters in which the dying character’s companions explore a beautiful cavern and make a discovery about their people. But I couldn’t make much progress on the chapters, even after free writing and brainstorming. I found myself going back to Plants vs. Zombies out of frustration. A vicious cycle? I’d like to think of it as an opportunity for reflection. Why did I pick up that game again and again? Because it’s fun and fast paced. Note the words fast paced.

After reading a post at Charles Yallowitz’s Legends of Windemere blog (“Distractions from the Plot or Character Building?”), I determined that the proposed chapters are probably a distraction. I asked myself: If a character in this scene is dying, why would his companions take the time to explore a cavern? Shouldn’t they continue their search for help for the dying person as quickly as possible? After all, that’s the ticking clock element. By trying to squeeze in this side trek, I had inadvertently sabotaged the pacing of the story by decreasing the tension. And I learned that through procrastination.

Now, I’m not justifying a habit of procrastination. We all know its negatives. None are more apparent than in my life. But sometimes, you have to look for patterns and what they tell you. There may be a purpose to that pattern, if you’ll take the time to look. Speaking of looking . . .


Have you thought about what your procrastination might be telling you?

Ice cream image from Koch snowflake and broccoli images from Wikipedia. Wrong way sign from Ninja cat from LOL Cats.

28 thoughts on “Fractals: The Purpose of the Pattern

  1. I think you’re definitely onto something, Linda. For myself, when I’m going in the right direction, the energy is always there to get the scene written. I think I tend to procrastinate when I get stuck.
    Congratulations, Phillip! Enjoy!

    • You know, I didn’t think about it until I started writing the post. But that’s where I’m generally stuck. But the energy flow is usually an indicator of what I need to write. I’m not saying that’s true for everyone. But it’s true for me.

      • I know how that is. I get behind. I’ll have your Blueberry Graham sent out. It will take 2 to 10 days, but will arrive FedX. They don’t deliver on Sunday or Monday: “All packages are shipped via FedEx. Please note – packages CANNOT arrive on a Sunday or Monday.”

  2. What you’ve posted makes sense. I often find by doing something else non-writing related can really make a difference when I go back to my novel. Sometimes ideas have a habit of forming when you’re not specifically thinking about ‘the novel’, so yes, procrastination can be good and helpful. Just in small doses.

    • Washing dishes, shoveling snow, vacuuming, jumping in the tub–that’s where I get ideas when I’m stuck. I know we should keep pressing on sometimes. But sometimes, we need to let it go for a bit.

  3. A great post, Linda. We need to remember that writing isn’t just the physical act of putting words on paper. As for the ninja cat – so much love!

    • Thanks, Sharon. Yes, I started to write an essentially negative post. But I think we beat ourselves up too much.
      I wish I could take credit for that ninja cat photo. I love it too.

  4. Wow, last month I win a CD from Andra’s blog, and now this. I’ve surely used up my luck for the next couple of years as this never happens. Thank you Linda. You’re so awesome. I sent you an email. And of course the rest of you are welcome to come over and share.

    As for the rest of your post, thank you for all of the great links. I’m going to start doing those Lumosity exercises.

  5. This is wonderful. Only you could combine fractals + replicated patterns = writing procrastination!
    AND make it all make sense. Whoever said ‘never do today what you can postpone until tomorrow’ needed this post!

  6. Sometimes I procrastinate when I don’t know what do with the story. Yeah, I know waiting for inspiration is sometimes a cop out. But sometimes I need the time to let things simmer and then bubble up.

  7. “Yeah, yeah. I know. You couldn’t possibly care less, right? Okay. I’ll get to the point. When I think of replicated patterns, I can’t help thinking of my writing. What I see replicated at times is a pattern of procrastination.”
    Au contraire! I love fractals and how you incorporated their principle of repeated patterns into your figuring out your ‘pattern’ of procrastination!!!! Brilliant.

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