Procrastination

Category: Writing

When it comes to writing, I am constantly at war with my own brain. I'm sure many of you will understand. I sit down at my laptop to tinker at a story and before I can catch myself –  before I've even noticed it's happening – I've submerged myself in a world of dead-end snippets of mental tat.

I convince myself, pitifully, that it's research. I start out Googling essential oils, searching for the perfect scent for my protagonist's bathtub (ylang ylang, perhaps, or bergamot?)  Soon I am tramping through the mires of Wikipedia, pouncing on links, heading deeper and deeper into the woods. I am bewitched by those blue hyperlinks which beckon with crooked fingers, promising fascinating secrets for my delectation. 

Eventually, I lose all trace of my trail and end up agog with curiosity in a field of useless facts. I present these snippets with mouse-corpse kitten-glee to my uninterested boyfriend, who is sitting across the room trying to concentrate on his own work. Did you know that komodo dragons sometimes harass pregnant deer in the hope of inducing a miscarriage so they can eat the foetus? No. Yep. And sometimes when they're finding it difficult to swallow a goat, they ram the carcass up against the tree to force it down their own throat. Sometimes so hard they knock the tree down!

I do not know how this knowledge is supposed to help me with my fiction.

At some point I will realise that an hour has passed. I will curse myself and close each tab pointedly, return to Open Office and my story, only to find my protagonist's bath is still scentless. 

At this point, it takes every morsel of willpower to avoid repeating the cycle.

As a procrastinator I am in fine company. Douglas Adams said he loved the “whoosh” of missed deadlines passing over his head, and Leonardo Da Vinci might have taken less than twenty years to paint the Mona Lisa if he hadn't spent so much time drawing pictures of imaginary machines. However, I also realise this is not helping me complete a short story collection, and so I am trying to teach myself to refrain.

I have attempted enlisting the help of software for this mission. I've downloaded Write Or Die to my desktop, a terrifying programme which starts to punish you when you haven't written a single word in a designated period of time (depending on your levels of masochism, this can range from turning the screen red and blaring the sound of babies crying, or deleting your words one at a time until you start writing again). I've also tried Write Room, a programme which turns your entire screen black with luminescent green text, eradicating all windows and formatting options and removing the temptation for internet clicking. It does make it seem a bit like you're typing instructions into an MS-DOS operating system, which might not be the most creatively stimulating effect.  

It embarrasses me that sometimes I resort to this. Writing stories is what I'm passionate about, what I've always wanted to do, and when I have the time to do it I am mortified that my mind seems to prefer addling around the internet to no avail. Though I'd like to think this desire stemmed from a basic curiosity about the world (a curiosity which surely enriches my writing, right?) when I watch an afternoon evaporating in useless clicking this starts to seem like a pitiful excuse.

However, it seems near enough New Year to decide to break some old habits. Last week my laptop had to return to the shop for a week's detox after our boozy lifestyle left him prone to blackouts and collapsing of the screen. During that time, I regressed to handwritten notes and the corners of my brain for first drafts to germinate. I wrote things in soft-skinned black notebooks on the top decks of buses and went for walks on my own where I discovered that wandering around aimlessly is twice as productive for me as sitting in front of a laptop for an afternoon.  And ultimately, much more pleasant too.

Accordingly, the resolution for the time being is back to basics. Notebooks for first drafts, accepting it is perfectly fine to leave a word undecided, to annotate a page with question marks for later revision. I'm going to allow myself the internet only after some words are on the page, and I'm going to install a child block on Wikipedia.

 

Jane Flett

Jane Flett received a New Writers Award in 2010.