Monday, March 31, 2008

How Those Who HAVE to Write Procrastinate

If you've been reading my blog on a somewhat regular basis over the nearly two years I've been keeping it, you may have come across references I've made to the fact that I seem to have been born with a biological need to write. It isn't a choice for me the way it is for some lucky souls out there who can go weeks never having a single thought about putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I never struggle from writer's block, per se, as I always have something in my head just dying to be written, often getting out its whip and chain, hurrying me out of restaurant/kitchen/bathroom and into a comfortable environment in which it can express itself. The problem is, those with the whips and chains demand far more attention (obviously. Typically, they're blog posts, though they're often things like Letters To The Editor That Never Get Published) than those that are sitting over in the corner, very quietly whispering, "Oh, don't worry about me. I'll be here when you can get to me. Look at the size of that whip. Oooh, you'd better do what she says."

The problem is, nine times out of ten, the one cowering in the corner (when it isn't a "thank you" note), deferring to Ms. Numchuck Champion, is The Novel. I've mentioned the fact in other posts this year that about two months ago I wrote a prologue for a novel that pleased me immensely. I then wrote the epilogue, which was not half as satisfying (in case you're wondering, Bob agreed with me, so it's not just me). Since then, I've re-written the epilogue (and I think made it even worse) and written half a chapter. Just this week, I decided the whole book had to be about something entirely different (it's a brilliant idea that I've given a hefty allowance in the hopes that it will buy some whips and chains of its own instead of running off to the Caribbean and telling me it's sure I can replace it with something else). What's wonderful is that with this new idea, I can dump that unsatisfying epilogue. However, it means re-writing the whole prologue in a different way.

So, what have I been doing? Well, have you noticed that I've written more blog posts this week than you've seen me write in a single week in, oh, about a year? (In fairness, some of that has to do with the fact that I'm on the road. It isn't easy to work on a novel when one is on the road, because there's really no time). During the couple of months since I started writing The Novel, I've written half of a draft of a new ghost story, the first few sentences of another one (because I have to do that, or I'll forget the brilliance of those sentences that popped into my head while I was driving), and the entire second draft of an old one (anyone else remember that one of my two new year's resolutions was to write new stories and not to revise old ones this year? So much for that. But, you see, I didn't realize The Novel was going to come along, begging me to do anything other than pay attention to it, when I made that resolution). Oh, and believe it or not, I've got three hand-written blog posts that were composed when I was in places where it was much easier to pull out a notebook and pen than a computer (train stations and hotel lounges, for example) that need to be transcribed at some point.

I guess that means my #1 procrastination technique for putting off writing is blogging. Now that is certainly ironic (no matter how you think the word should be defined). Anyone else out there do that?

11 comments:

Charlotte said...

OH YES! I know the syndrome. I also blog when I'm dying to work on my novel, but can't because the writing conditions aren't perfect (ie silence).

Glad to hear about your novel, Emily. Keep us posted, won't you?

Emily Barton said...

Charlotte, oh, I'm so glad to hear YOU say that. I'm so envious of what seems to me to be such stick-to-it-ive-ness when it comes to your novel. I will certainly keep everyone posted.

Dorothy W. said...

Well, I have to say that I enjoy the results of your procrastination, and I can't exactly say I want them to end ...

Susan said...

I have had a day to think about this blog, and have to admit that I too blog instead of writing. I've actually have been stuck in a non-writing phase since I finished the first draft of my novel - the one I've been writing for 15 years - I finally made myself just write the whole thing, just to get it down, which I did through the autumn until I finished it before Christmas - and now I'm scared to read it to find out if a) it's really bad and I suck at fantasy or b) it's good,which means I have to face it could get published in my lifetime. You'd think after a lifetime of writing I'd handle this better!!! So I haven't written anything since then. I also stay up way too late at night - I got up at 5:30 in the morning to write, which was the only quiet time for me - and it worked, so now of course I am sabotaging myself by staying up (blogging!)late at night and not being able to get up and work on something else while I get ready to read the first draft....
I know I'm nearing the end of this because I'm getting ready to read it - if it's anywhere,anyhow better than Inkheart I'll be thrilled!! - which is the whole reason for writing, isn't it? and if it's worse, then I'll see what the problem is, and if it can be fixed, and if not, go to the next plots I have lined up.
so, like you say, don't give up, either of you two! I love hearing how you are doing with your writing too, and if you get to your novel that day or not....Even if it takes 20 years to write it while we raise kids/work/settle into a new country.....every word counts. I know I said this to you Charlotte - but I LOVE that Penelope Fitzgerald didn't get published until she was 60! (just because it goes to show it's never too late, and that we still have 15 + years to get there!) so when I drag myself home from work and face crying kids and meals to be made, I think of her and stop panicking that I'm never going to get anything written.

musingsfromthesofa said...

I don't know what you mean. It's not as though I started my blog as a way of putting off working on my MA dissertation. Absolutely not. Nope, wasn't me.
But, I suspect you have more of a salivating audience for your novel than I had for my dissertation. So, kindly get on with it!

ZoesMom said...

I know exactly what you mean. Any time I have to do something that same procrastination bug pops up -- even when it is something I normally enjoy doing. The only cure I know of is looming deadline.

Emily Barton said...

Dorr, well, glad to have an audience for my procrastination techniques.

Susan, thanks for the encouragement! I, too, used to get up at 5:00 a.m. to write ghost stories, which is the best time to write them, but I started the old "sleeping in." I keep hoping I'll get back to it and can devote a little time each day to both ghost-story writing and novel-writing. I hope your find yourself loving your effort as you reread it.

MFS, maybe one day I will be able to bring a rough draft of a MS to you as a "hostess gift" in CT, if you haven't moved on to Paris or somewhere by the time I finish it!

ZM, deadlines have a way of making things happen, don't they?

ravenousreader said...

hello, emily - how nice to meet a fellow blogelist (my new term for those of use who use our blogs as substitutes for writing our novels).

i did manage to finish a draft of not one, but two novels, thanks to the phenomenon known as NaNoWriMo (an online challenge group for novel writing which takes place each november).

however, they have both languished sadly in a long forgotten file folder somewhere in "my documents."

meanwhile, instead of revising, i write two blogs and lots of comments.

perhaps we all need to band together and somehow cheer each other on?

Kate S. said...

I too blog as procrastination. I firmly believe that the way I've changed my reading habits since I started blogging and the blogging itself are good for my writing in the grand scheme. But I have to figure out how to inject a bit of discipline into my days so that the blogging doesn't swallow up the scant writing time I've got left after the work I get paid to do is done.

Emily Barton said...

RR, blogelist! I love it. Good for you for finishing TWO drafts! (Let the cheering begin) Think of some wonderful reward you will treat yourself to once you've revised half of one of those first drafts. (Perhaps a few new books or a new pen?)

Kate, I have the same firm beliefs. If only we didn't have all that work for which we get paid to do, I bet we'd all be getting rave reviews in Kirkus, the TLS and the NYRB by now :-)!

litlove said...

Even the washing up looks good when I have something to write that I sort of do and don't want to. So naturally blogging looks like a wonderful alternative, because it IS writing after all...