Right now I am in the midst of a rewrite for my novel, changing a rather significant part of it. (I won’t go into detail now as that would be procrastinating rather than getting to the point of this blog post which is after all about procrastinating.)But this morning as I got up, I found myself firstly up a ladder cleaning the dust from the top of my son’s wardrobe. Then before I knew it this led me to the wool basket in the corner of the living room, where I began to untangle a ball of very fluffy, fine wool. As I was getting frustrated with this task, I asked myself why I wasn’t actually getting on with my novel.
So I decided to write this blog post. (Yes, I am procrastinating but I am procrastinating by writing about procrastinating so at least I am writing.)
This is a blog post about procrastinating if you hadn’t already grasped that. It is particularly related to writing, and more specifically to fiction writing, and furthermore to novel writing. Why novel writing? Because that’s what I do for a living. I write novels. But I also put off writing novels. Writing a novel is like having a long term relationship. It is off and on. Sometimes there is love and bliss, sometimes annoyance, many excuses and downright anger. Right now, I am in a new phase, the one that comes after counselling and sound advice (agents are well aware of procrastination techniques even though we writers try in vain hide it from them). The new phase means I am trying again. I have good intentions. But I still have old habits to contend with, the worst of which is a horror known as ‘displacement activities’.
Exhibit 1: The top of my son’s wardrobe.
Exhibit 2: A ball of fluffy, fine wool.
Exhibit 3: This blog post.
Why do some writers of novels find displacement activities more alluring than writing their novel? Is it because they are scared of the blank page? Or because they have got stuck on a tricky plot point? Maybe they fed up with their characters? Or is descaling the kettle of greater excitement?
This reminds me of a story I love to tell about displacement activities. I was at a workshop about ten years ago given by the crime novelist Frances Fyfield. She was talking on this very subject. She said that one day she was doing some mundane task or other, trying not to write her novel. She then thought, I know I’ll phone my friend for a chat. Her friend was fellow crime novelist Val McDermid. Val answered the phone and Frances asked her what she was up to. Val replied: ‘Bleaching the spoons’.
Both these novelists are fantastic crime writers and hugely successful and critically acclaimed. So even they are prone to procrastination, so it seems.
But both Val and Frances must get on with it at some point because they are prolific and professional and they write flipping good books.
So yes, I might go and bleach the spoons but then at some point I will get down to it. I will give my novel another chance and I will write some words, not necessary in the right order but I will pin them down to the page.
Next Monday I will be blogging about the writing process as I have been asked to do so by the wonderfully talented Elizabeth Stott. Do look at her link below to see how she does it.
What are your favoured displacement activities?