Posts Tagged ‘procrastination’

I’m really happy with my New Year’s resolutions. Really, really happy.  What differentiates this year’s set from all the previous ones is that they’re prescriptive rather than proscriptive, “thou shalts” rather than “thou shalt nots” and, as such, leave one with a feeling of achievement, rather than a fear of failure.

Probably the most successful resolutions are those relating to the timetabling of my day.  For years I’ve been a believer in getting down to work early and carrying on through the day.  That, at least, was the theory.  In fact what I’ve believed in is sitting in front of my computer early, then finding as many ways to distract myself from working as possible (oh Wikipedia!  how you tempt me with your “Random article” link) until it gets to 10.30 and I can slope off to a coffee shop for a shot of caffeine and a bun, before returning to my computer hours later only to realise that (a) calories have left my brain lethargic and (b) actually, my VAT return is probably more important than the next few pages of script.

Having a set beginning and end to the “main project” part of my writing day, with afternoons left aside for all those irritating bits of admin and, er, paying jobs,  has been a massive improvement.  Obviously, kicking the various distractions into the long grass of the afternoon helps productivity during the morning but, more than this, ending the main project at noon and not starting it again until 8.30/9ish the next day gives plenty of time to ponder what those next 3ish hours of writing will involve.  A lot of the time one chooses to distract oneself when writing because one doesn’t really know what’s coming next.  It’s much easier to surf the net/go for a bun/play-17-hours-of-LittleBigPlanet-and-still-get-stuck-on-that-sodding-wheel-of-death than it is to sit down and come up with the answer to “what happens next”.  Under the new regime, I (and my subconscious) get 21 hours to work on that problem, with the result that, when I start in anew on the film script each day, I know pretty much exactly what I want to happen and how I’m going to get there.  It’s hugely liberating.   Now why didn’t I think of it 10 years ago?


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Go to any Q&A with writers or watch/read any interview with a writer and the question “Where do you get your ideas from?” will come up.  This is strange as it is a very, very bad question.  Ideas come to all of us all the time, even if the idea is only “I think I’ll sit down and watch the telly.”  Ideas with the potential to be stories also come to us pretty regularly, even if the idea is only something like “I wonder what my neighbours are doing that means they have to make such a DREADFUL FRICKING ROW???” – right there is an idea for a story, all the writer has to do is run with it.  Save in the case of the profoundly mentally ill, each and every human being is a walking ideas factory – all that is necessary is to spot the ideas as they come along and write them down.

In fact most writers I know have no problem coming up with great ideas.  It’s much more of a problem to try to stop coming up with great ideas.  The moment one sits down to engage seriously with one’s current idea another even better idea for something completely different comes along.  This is, as you many have guessed exactly what’s happened to me.  Just as I was drifting off to sleep last night I came up with what is (IMHO) a really rather marvellous idea … which has led to me spending today playing around with it rather than knuckling down to the things I’m supposed to be working on.  Ah well, there’s always tomorrow.

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So, where were we?  Ah yes, work was proceeding “but not necessarily apace”.  Actually, that’s a little unfair – writing is proceeding slowly but preparing to write is actually beginning to come together.  Reading around a subject is always the writer’s best friend and let no one tell you otherwise.  For one thing, it’s a great way of not having to put anything down on paper (at least nothing beyond a few scribbled notes), which is always desirable, but it also sets off surprising new avenues of thought.  At the moment I’m using the quite extraordinary The Secret Commonwealth by Robert Kirk as my background reading.  Its author was a Scottish Episcopalian minister in the late seventeenth century who appears to have genuinely believed in the sprites, spirits, elves, brownies and other creatures of which local legend spoke.  The book itself is a brief treatise on the nature and habits of these creatures as revealed to Kirk by tales and by some of those among his flock whom he understood to be possessed of “second sight”.  In transforming folk tales and fairy stories into a “serious” (if wholly unbelievable) work, Kirk lifts the various beasts and boggarts into a brand new realm.  His insistence on the existence of parallel realms, of human reality and the “reality” of The Secret Commonwealth of the fey, is exactly the device I was planning to work with in the novel and his explanation of the relations between the two should prove very useful.

Although Kirk’s own story is not the one I’m currently writing there is definitely something there that I might want to write about in futuree especially as local tales held that he was struck down by the little people themselves and he reappeared in spirit form on at least two occasions.  In any event, his book has given me a neat plot twist which has resolved some difficulties I was having with the last section of my story, so I certainly owe him something.

And now a quick aside: when I popped around the corner to the organic food shop (great, reasonably priced local produce plus wholly ridiculous rock crystal candles, reiki sessions and homeopathic remedies) I discovered that one of the assortment of oversized-4×4-armour-plated-pram pushers who were clogging up the place had “Duelling Banjos” as their ringtone.  It may just be because I watched Deliverance fairly recently but I did find that rather disturbing.

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A Good Excuse?

Well, I didn’t get as much done today as I’d have liked.  I blame this chiefly on a trip into town to get a new coat.  I realise that may not sound like much of an excuse but it is pretty cold at the moment and I really did need a coat … largely due to the fact that my old one got burnt.  One minute I’m in a pub, chatting to some mates before going off to a comedy gig, the next minute one of those mates is frantically jumping up and down on my coat and another is chucking beer over it, in order to put out the flames which have started leaping up the arm (luckily I wasn’t wearing it at the time).  This is why candles in pubs are a very bad idea.

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… well, mainly the chest cold that has been having its way with me for the past few days.  And then there’re my eyes of course.  After nearly four decades of faithful service they have decided that all that “focusing” stuff is getting a bit old hat.  Whilst I respect the reasons for their decision I can’t really agree with it – especially as the focusing stuff really worked very well for (a) reading and (b) writing, which are the two things I spend most of my days doing (you’ll understand that “reading” in this regard also refers to reading the descriptions of various TV shows as they appear onscreen as I flick between channels and reading the, frankly excessively small, type on the PSP iteration of Final Fantasy Tactics).

When I went to see him last week my optician seemed quite reluctant to give me a prescription for glasses.  Normally I like this kind of attitude – I’d much rather see a doctor who was reluctant to prescribe me something rather than one of those sorts who hands out antibiotics like Jay Leno hands out muffins to writers (especially as I don’t want my doctor to sneak off and do my job behind my back).  Unfortunately, in this case I wanted those glasses and no amount of telling me “Of course if you were a road digger you could definitely survive without spectacles” could convince me otherwise, mainly because I’m not a road digger.

I got the prescription in the end and went to pick it up today.  This, of course, ate into my writing time (though not as much as the time I had to spend on facebook, scouring assorted news websites, popping out for a quick walk and a coffee to get some “thinking time” &c &c) and when I finally got back and tried to work with my new specs on I found myself in a scary new word where the words on the page and screen finally appeared a nice, solid black but the screen they appeared on appeared wider at the top than the bottom and any attempt to turn my head resulted in a powerful desire to vomit.

So those are my excuses for today.  Still, I did get a fair bit of research done.  And I came up with some pretty promising ideas for sketches.  In fact, I even  managed to get a bit of work done on the novel.  It’s just I didn’t get as much done as I’d have liked.  And that irks me.  Which is why I blame the cold … and my eyes … and definitely not me, myself or I.

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Let’s start with two quotes …

Party Guest: “I’m writing a novel”

Peter Cook: “Oh really?  Neither am I”

Or, more pretentiously …

“… you write a book and while you write it you are ashamed for every one must think you are a silly or a crazy one and yet you write it and you are ashamed, you know you will be laughed at or pitied by every one and you have a queer feeling and you are not very certain …”

– Gertrude Stein

There is something scary about writing, even for “professional” writers.  When it comes to putting finger to keyboard for a piece of work you really care about, the whole business of knocking out a few hundred words becomes very hard.  A quick search through interviews with writers will quickly discover thousands of methods of procrastination – from Roald Dahl’s obsessive ritual of sharpening and arranging his pencils to Martin Amis and Julian Barnes’s habit of getting in a few frames of snooker as they made mental notes about the surrounding “proles”, via assorted “sudden urges to tidy the room” to that “very real need to phone my parents for the first time in six years”.

There is something awfully hard about committing one’s brilliant ideas to the page or screen.  The cause will be different for different writers.  In my own case, I put it down to the fear that the golden ideas that glow so brightly in the vaults of my brain will – by some eldritch alchemical process – be transformed into base lead as they try to purchase a place on the page.

This blog is an attempt to blackmail myself into being more productive. My hope is that by advertising my writing plans on “teh intertube” I can shame myself into actually following them through to the end, rather than wandering off the path before I’m halfway along and finding myself back in the dreadful grind of knocking out the odd comic line and buffing up the odd TV script.  I’ll also try to pass on the experiences of sifting through the rubbish bins at the bottom end of British TV and radio writing (and try not to get too depressed as I do so).

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