I get a bit obsessed with my own procrastination. I’ll do almost anything rather than write, particularly when it’s later in the day. Life presents so many NECESSARY things that need doing that sometimes it’s easy to go for weeks without writing anything at all. Unfortunately the bitter counterweight to all this lovely procrastination is guilt. I’ve got a little Stephen King shaped angel on my shoulder, tapping out big door-stop books, telling me that real writers write every day.
One of the best ways to procrastinate that I’ve found is to research the reasons and potential cures for procrastination. This way you can easily convince yourself that you are doing valuable work, when in reality all you are doing is avoiding writing. That may be what you are doing right now…
The biggest problem I have is finding time to write. It’s not that I’m any busier than any other person out there, in fact given I don’t have kids I probably have a vast amount of free time compared to some. It’s not self-discipline either – I can force myself to do things if I feel the need. The problem is finding the time to write when your brain is at its most conducive, when the creative sap is flowing. I read with envy about the lifestyles of famous writers. Many of them had their routines of writing in the mornings, then answering letters in the afternoon (or getting drunk and going shark fishing). As a writer who also has to work for a living the hours for productive writing shrink dramatically.
Through trial and error I’ve found that the only time when I can effectively and consistently write is in the early morning. When I write in the evening I’m reeling from a day at work. My emotional and physical energy is low and I feel like I’m wearing a cloak of dirty static. Everything buzzes with the adrenaline and stress from the day. That’s fine for logic work: editing and planning, but actually spooling out fresh organic prose? Forget it. I sometimes find myself writing in bullet points. I’ve found the only thing I’m really good for in the evenings is staggering around Tescos and drooling on the sofa whilst watching episodes of The Sopranos.
There are some bloggers out there that paint a glorious picture of writing early in the morning. They cite Julia Cameron’s The Artists’ Way as their bible. Cut through all the rehab exercises and at the core of the book Cameron recommends getting up first thing in the morning and writing three pages stream of conscious longhand text. It clears the pool ready for swimming in it. This really works, in fact it changed the way I approach writing and it got me out of a cycle of guilt and self inflicted pressure that was sucking all the fun out of the thing that I love. Unfortunately once I’ve written three pages of cleansing junk the rest of the day has caught up with me and it’s time to go to work.
There are other books out there that bark at you to stop whinging and just get on with it, to just be professional. “The War of Art” by Stephen Pressfield is a great kick in the seat of the pants for any procrastinating writer. As with most of these books though it has one central idea that it spins out across an entire book and costs a tenner.
Different things work for different people, but in the end it all comes down to sitting at your desk and doing some work. It doesn’t matter if it’s ten at night or five in the morning, if you’re not writing then by definition you’re not a writer.
So anyway I wrestled with this for years before finding my own answer: get up earlier.
It’s not been easy. There is a yawning terror to getting out of bed an hour before you normally would. You wonder if you will survive the day, if the hot ants of sleep deprivation will go marching all over your body in an afternoon meeting. A bit of coffee works wonders and it does help if the mornings are light.
The nice thing about early mornings is that my brain hasn’t settled yet into it’s normal logical task mode; everything feels a little more soupy and dream-like. There are surprising nuggets of ideas in the thick half-waking loam that spill from your tapping fingers. Sometimes it can be quite magical.
I’m currently getting up at twenty past five in the morning on work days, more or less consistently. The idea is that I trick myself into going and sitting down at the computer before my body or brain register what I’m doing. I’ve bought a kettle for the study and I seem to wake up about half way through my designated writing hour, slurping a black coffee, by which time I’ve already written about three to five hundred words. They may not be the greatest words in the world but at the end of the hour I can usually walk away from a bleeding chunk of fresh text. That’s a good way to start the day, a day free of guilt and nagging self imposed pressure.
Apart from the pressure to do more exercise. And to get that presentation written at work. And to get a birthday present for my brother-in-law. And to cut the lawn…
This is the first in a series of occasional pieces by The Savage Club members on fitting writing into an already full schedule.