May 4/2022: Inevitability of procrastination
Christie Harris, a writer of YA novels, was a friend of my mother back in the 1970s/1980s. I frequently got to meet her during writer events hosted by my mother in her apartment in Vancouver’s West End. On one such occasion I remember the subject of “the difficulty of finding time to write” came up. I remember Christie shaking her head in disgust.
“There’s no such thing,” she exclaimed. “A genuine writer can write anywhere anytime.” She went on to explain what fond memories she had of the farm she and her husband once owned. She used to sit at a small table in front of the farm house, chickens running about her feet, a baby tucked under one arm, merrily typing away hour after hour immune to all distractions except the most immediate needs of her child and other assorted critters.
Well, good for her. Harlan Ellison often wrote in public, as a sort of “writer-in-a-cage” display. Theodore Sturgeon wrote in the nude at his kitchen table while listening to the radio playing “Golden Oldies.” Good for them. Me, I require silence, comfort, and locked doors. Also an empty stomach, coffee, and a mental alertness born of hours of fantasizing about getting started. In the best case scenario I awake circa 7:00/8:00 a.m., make coffee, stare at my laptop screen for a few minutes, then begin writing. I am usually able to knock off before noon with a thousand words done, freeing up the rest of the day.
Alas, ideal conditions are rarely met. Sometimes I get up circa 7:00/8:00 a.m, make coffee, check the internet, wait for the mail, stare out the window, have a late breakfast, and go back to bed. All because I’m too tired to think. Why? Mondays and Tuesdays I host two zoom sessions that each last anywhere from two to six hours. Exhausting. I wake up Wednesday determined to write my next review column for Amazing Stories (due Friday Morning) but am still tired from the zoom sessions.
What I’m getting at here is the price to be paid for social obligations. Even going out on a shopping trip, or visiting friends and/or relatives, exacts a toll. Needful and invigorating though these expeditions be (getting out of the house, meeting people, socializing) it often leaves me so tired I can’t write later in the day or even the next day. Not so much a question of physical fatigue as a matter of losing the edge of my mental alertness. I don’t think it’s a question of some dire health problem. Rather, I suspect it is simply a case of my being so inately lazy and easygoing that relating to other people relaxes my mental and emotional state to a calm and well-soothed mood of sonambulance. This leaves me feeling happy, but also unfit for writing.
I empathise with Isaac Asimov. Bad weather made him derleriously joyful. It meant none of his friends would bother to call on him in his Manhatten apartment to meet for lunch or any other purpose. He could get on with with his prefered business of writing. He got a lot done when the weather sucked.
Mind you, I don’t know how Isaac handled the curse of the writer’s imagination. Just as chronic depressives utilize the power of their intellect to rationalize and justify their depression (I speak as someone who suffered from extreme depression throughout most of my adult life–don’t worry, I’m in my second childhood now and quite content), so writers tend to be very good at imagining why they can’t write, shouldn’t write, and will never write again. The amount of energy and effort that goes into that sort of thinking, if properly applied, would produce dozens of novels.
Worse, if you are worried about something, even if it has nothing to do with you, writers have a tendency to obsess and worry over things they can’t correct or change. For some, it’s the state of the world. For me, a former fanactivist and fanhistorian, it’s the state of SF fandom in British Columbia. I can rant and rave about that for hours, turning things over and over in my mind. Fat lot of good it does. Complete waste of time.
No wonder procrastination is inevitable. It has a thousand triggers. Both mind and body are eager to betray a writer. In that sense every writer has the soul of a traitor.
So, what’s the solution?
For me, to stop thinking. To keep my mind as blank as possible. That’s the important first step. Fortunately it’s pretty much my natural state if only I let myself be myself.
Second, before going to bed, I read over what I last wrote. Let my subconscious chew on it while I sleep.
Third, I get up circa 7:00/8:00 a.m, make coffee, and start writing.
Yep, in order to write, all you have to do is start writing.