Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Riding the wave of procrastination - Liz Kessler

My actual job at this moment is to write a book. It will be my second YA novel. It is due with my editor in September. I am loving writing it. But because I am cursed with The Procrastinatory Mind Of The Writer, my days involve a LOT, LOT more than actual writing of this book.

And by the way, The Procrastinatory Mind Of The Writer is an actual thing. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself – why are you here? What are you REALLY meant to be doing whilst you are instead reading this? Huh?

Exactly.

Oh, and before you accuse me of having written about this before. Well, yes. Maybe I have. Twice. But it’s a big subject and there’s a lot to say – so I’m saying it again.

My daily work target is to write 1,500 words. In theory, I do NOTHING until I have done at least half of this. No internet, no walking the dog, no phoning my mum. Nothing.

Here’s what I did yesterday before writing a word of my novel. I think the first group of activities count as work.
  • Watched the live feed of the Carnegie Medal award. (It’s about writers.)
  • Looked up methods of exorcising ghosts. (Research for current book.)
  • Made about seven cups of tea. (Fuel?)
  • Answered some questions for a friend’s article in The Author. (A magazine for writers.)
  • Looked up articles about gender and language to prepare for a Radio Three programme I’m going to be on this week. (Raising profile.)
  • Replied to many emails. (Mostly work.)

The next few activities might not be quite so easily classified as work:
  • Made arrangements for meeting up with my mum next week.
  • Ditto for meeting up with sister.
  • Started a long thread on Facebook about a splinter in my toe.
  • Removed said splinter with the help of partner, tweezers, needle and iPhone torch.
Yay!
  • Frightened myself silly over various friends’ splinter-related horror stories.
  • Ordered a birthday present for partner.
  • Generally chatted with friends on Facebook.
  • And Twitter.
  • And maybe posted a photo on Instagram.
  • Perhaps had a few goes of a ridiculously addictive game called 'Dots'. (Don't look it up. Don't do it. Take it from me: you will lose days of your life to it.)
  • Looked out at the sea and wondered about going surfing. 
  • Ate fridge cake.

At some point, meandering through all of this like a river determined to reach its destination despite looking very much like a half-hearted trickle in places, the words got written. They got written! All 1,500 of them.

There's a voice inside me somewhere, shouting: ‘But this isn’t how I want to work!!!!!’ It’s disjointed, it’s messy, it’s lacking in solid focus, it’s undisciplined.

But then there’s another voice. This one is coming from the side of me that has learned about mindfulness techniques where you accept what ‘is’ rather than battle against it. And it’s the side that remembers many conversations with my lovely friend Jen who introduced me to the idea that the process of writing a book has seasons.

This voice says: look, the book is getting written. It’s happening. You’re on schedule. So why sweat it? Yes, you could switch off the internet a bit more. Yes, you could write maybe a little more than one sentence at a time before distracting yourself with yet another activity that is not writing the book. But maybe all of these things are what you need to do, while the story brews in the background.

I’m liking this voice. 

And in fact, I only have to look outside my window for confirmation that it might be right. Watching people surf – or being on the waves myself – is a good example of how this whole thing works. See, there is a lot more to surfing than the moment when you ride a wave. You have to hoik yourself into your wetsuit, get your board, go down to the beach, do a few stretches, run down to the water, paddle out to the breaking waves, sit on your board and wait, then paddle like crazy and then, THEN, you get maybe ten seconds – at most – of that exhilarating feeling of riding the wave. That moment is a fraction of the whole experience.

So perhaps that is how it is with writing, too. All the other activities are the warm-ups and preparation. The writing – the bit that does in fact make my heart sing – is the moment of riding the wave. 

Once I accept this fact, I can already start to relax. This doesn’t mean I can give myself permission to faff for almost the entire day. The background work needs to feel more focussed, I admit, and genuinely needs to be part of supporting the writing process in one way or another. But there’s no point in thinking that I can just jump out of bed and onto a wave. It simply doesn’t work like that for me. 

I’ve often told beginner writers that they need to learn what their own process is and be happy with it. So I need to do the same.

On which note, I am off to catch a metaphorical wave.

But I might just do one or two more metaphorical stretching exercises first.



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8 comments:

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Oh, this resonates! It reminded me of why, for me -- and I suspect for you, Liz -- having a daily word count (or if I'm editing, page count) is so vital. It reminds us that yes, we do do other things, but as you said, the book gets written. People often laugh at me because I actually keep a physical note of said word/page count, but that's just another way of ensuring I have done it and reassuring myself that I'm on target. After years in a classroom, there is still part of me that feels the need to prove that I have put the work in -- the far-off prospect of the distant book is too elusive.

Emma Barnes said...

All that stuff plus 1,500 words? You seem incredibly productive! (And I bet your toe splinter story gave your friends a lot of fun.)

JO said...

This is so familiar - I love writing, so why is it so difficult to get down to it. But maybe, as you say, I should stop fighting the faffing and just go with the flow. Which feels like a good enough reason for fridge cake,

Jenny Alexander said...

I completely LOVE the surfing analogy Liz! And thank you for taking time out for my Author article questions this week :)

caroljchristie said...

Brilliant! This made me laugh out loud and I recognise so much of it. Sometimes it seems so much as if books get written despite the writer. Or maybe that's just me.

Liz Kessler said...

Thanks for the nice comments - and the validation that I'm not the only one!

Stroppy Author said...

There were quite a lot of words in that very entertaining splinter thread - you probably did double your word count that day :-)

LuWrites said...

Love it. Suddenly I know I'm not alone... Dots, did you say? Oh look, the garden needs watering a minute...