Life gets in the way
Life gets in the way of writing. Actually life gets in the way of a lot of things, but it is a particular culprit in the pantheon of things that prevent writers writing.
Displacement activity moves in mysterious ways and takes many forms. It can manifest itself in things that we just ‘have’ to do before starting a new chapter, novel, (or even sentence), or in emotional issues that stop us from feeling in the ‘right’ creative mood.
Some of these excuses are real of course. Some of them really do have to be addressed before starting work, but some do not. Sorting out the difference between these categories is a nice little piece of displacement activity in its own right. In this scenario the inhibiting effect often manifests itself in the activity of creating lists.
Now clearly lists are useful things, (or ‘organisational tools’, as a time-management guru might say) and there is something very satisfying about crossing items off a list. The only problem is that the one thing we really need to do – our writing – often doesn’t actually appear on the list. Instead of ‘take goldfish to vet’, ‘find fresh sardines’, ‘apologise to Cynthia’, ‘check recipe’, ‘ring estate agent’, ‘update telephone list’, ‘pay off rent boy’, ‘get eyes tested’, we should have ‘work on character motivation’, ‘finalise story structure’, ‘research Iris Origo 1942’, ‘ask Paul how long it would take a submarine to get from Algiers to Sicily’, ‘rewrite sex scene’, or even, ‘finish first draft.’
Some wannabe writers take it to extremes, their lists include things like ‘buy and read 150 How-To books on Creative Writing’, ‘enrol on Creative Writing MA’ or ‘ask Arts Council about Creative Writing PhD funding,’ when what they could be doing is writing a novel.
So why do we constantly put off the very thing we want (need) to do, the thing that bring us so much pleasure, so much reward, both emotional and, if we are lucky, financial?
I don’t know the answer, but it could be something to do with the fact that in our mind the envisaged novel or short story seems like a perfect jewel, the brilliance of which just might stun the world. But we suspect that when we write it down it’s not going to be quite the same, it won’t sparkle in quite the way we intended (or, sometimes, at all!) Maybe we are frightened of getting it ‘wrong’, of letting ourselves down, of our hopes being dashed?
Perhaps. But we also know we are writers, interested in things, and thus easily distracted.
Last week I spent a lazy afternoon reading a book about time management which recommends that I set a stop watch for three quarter of an hour sessions in which I do nothing but write. I subsequently spent a couple of pleasant hours finding and buying a stop watch. As soon as I finish this I am going to see if the technique works. I just have to get some crucial Tweeting done before I start, oh, and I’ve just remembered that the compost heap needs digging over …