Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The Shed in my Head - John Dougherty

Reading Damian's entry from earlier today, I felt a familiar twinge. For several months now, you see, I have been suffering from Shed Envy: a pernicious condition which afflicts many writers and whose sole benefit is the opportunity it provides to use internal rhymes like 'pernicious condition'.

It started when I realised that even when I'm alone in the house, I'm the unhappy victim of all manner of interruptions.

Firstly, there are the phone calls. I can guarantee that these won't come as I settle down to work; no, the first incoming call of the morning will coincide exactly with the moment when I've finally managed to set aside all distractions, re-read the chapter that I wrote the day before, and arrive in the Zone, all creative juices flowing to order.

What can I do? If I leave the phone to ring, I'll spend the next hour or so wondering if it was an important call. Maybe it was the Readers' Digest phoning to tell me I've finally won that huge amount of money they've been writing to me about for years; perhaps even now they're crossing me off the list and moving on to the next name. Or could it be the hospital? Have I just, by callously and unfeelingly failing to answer the phone, left one of my loved ones to perish in the arms of strangers?

So I answer the phone, and of course the more I need to write the more trivial the call will be - and the harder it will be to get the caller off the phone and me back into the Zone.

And just as I get back there, the postman will knock on the door with something that could easily have fitted through the letterbox if he'd only thought to chop it up into little bits. Or perhaps it'll be the cleaner who my wife took on to save me from fretting about the housework I wasn't getting done because I was writing (only I kept getting distracted by the fact that no-one had done the housework). So the cleaner comes once a week to do housework so I can get on with writing, only while she's here I keep getting distracted by her arriving, and then by her wanting to clean the room I'm working in, and then just by the general noises of cleaning...

So I'm frightfully envious and jealous of all those writers who have got a shed; and, like Damian, I shall be getting one of my own. Eventually. But the strange thing is that while all these things distract me when I'm supposed to be writing, very often when I'm supposed to be concentrating on the Bits Of My Life That Are Not Writing it's quite easy for me to escape into the Shed in my Head.

This is the place where my imagination goes when it's working on something, and it's not at all unusual for me to drift off down to the bottom of my mental garden and shut myself in it when I should be doing other things. My wife is by now used to having conversations with me during which I give apparently sensible answers but about which I can remember nothing five minutes later. My long-suffering children, likewise, are used to my simply not hearing them, or grunting vaguely when I should in fact be saying, "Really? That's great/terrible/interesting/strange/not yours [delete as appropriate]." I'm terrified that any moment now they're going to learn to use this to their advantage and I'll suddenly discover I've granted them permission to do all kinds of dangerous and unsuitable things while the major part of my consciousness has been otherwise preoccupied.

Perhaps when I get a real shed I won't need the one in my head any more, and then perhaps I can be a Normal Person. Perhaps I'll be able to leave the Writing Me in the shed as I lock it up at the end of the working day, and not be bothered by him till the next day. Perhaps my family will get my full attention when they deserve it.

And perhaps pigs with typewriters will win the Booker.


Lee said...

Or perhaps even an indie writer will win it, heh.

Lovely shed-in-my-head post, which I'm planning to plagiarise, all of it being absolutely familiar.

Uh, excuse me, the doorbell has just rung, and it's the cleaner come to sweep up my used and crumpled metaphors ...

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

My kids also roll their eyes when they realise they've been talking to me but I was off in another world. Lovely image to call it the shed in your head.
A tip: when writing, unplug phone before you start - oh and switch off your mobile too!

John Dougherty said...

I have to admit: I'd never thought of it as the Shed in my Head until, while wondering what I was going to blog about, I read Damian's post. But from now on, I don't think I'll be able to think of it as anything else...