Monday, 9 March 2009


Image: Tomorrow's Vow by Parnell D.

I thought Hilary Mantel was kind of desperately hilarious on the subject of writers and procrastination in Saturday's Guardian.

I procrastinate a lot: I blog. I write articles. I read. I review. I rearrange the kitchen. I actually write very little fiction or poetry, but I consider myself a writer. There's nothing I love more than when the writing is going well, flowing, existing at all. But the longer I do this, the less I write. I can blame all sorts of things but, really, the not-getting-on-with-it is probably based in fear, or an assortment of fears: Will I only write crap? Is there nothing left to say? Will I re-write the same story/poem again and again and again? If I write it this way, I won't be able to write it a different way; I'll kill the initial impetus with something 'wrong'.

Here are some of Hilary's thoughts:

"Why does a writer have to divert herself, pray for interruptions or devise them herself?...There may be something else you have to do before you can push through the enterprise. It may be just a good deal of thinking. Or it may be that you need to write another, different book, which bridges the gap between where you are now and the self who is ready to keep her initial promise. That said, why is the act of writing, the moment-by-moment compression of the keys, so dreaded by so many writers? Why do they have to interpose opium, or alcohol, or some other stimulant or sedative, before they can perform their trade's basic function? You don't hear of accountants who can't open a spread-sheet, or farmers who take against fields."

And I love this next paragraph, because it is so the way my mind operates i.e. 'If I make x happen to y character, then z can't happen...Then I'll have to start again. Impossible...':

"The experienced writer says to the anguished novice: just do it; get something, anything, on to the screen or page, just establish a flow of words, and criticise them later. You give this advice but can't always take it. You dread setting off down any one narrative path, because you know your choice will make most of the others impossible. Select one, write it, and it begins to seem in some sense pre-ordained, natural, correct; the other options fade from memory. Fear of commitment lies behind the fear of writing. Writers, as generations of jealous spouses have learned to their cost, are not naturally monogamous. We don't want to choose; we want to keep open all the possibilities, fill a lifetime with fresh and less-than-final versions."

Writing fodder doesn't occur to me as much as it did even 5 years ago. I simply don't write as much as I used to, and I certainly don't write as much as I'd like to. Yet I spend my life steeped in words/books/literary festivals/reviews etc etc. I think I'm waiting to wake up one day and be back to that old creative-prolific me, whose mind and pen were tumbling with the makings of stories and poems. I can hope, right?

The rest of Hilary Mantel's article is here.


Totalfeckineejit said...

There's a whole lot of procrastinating goin on.(see my blog)It's an artform ,I am an expert at it.If medals were dished out for it, mine would be gold with bells on.I even love the word, say it out loud PROCRASTINATE- Ahh, lovely.Don't know about other writing but I suspect every poet has one good poem in them and rewrites it a hundred different ways , probably even unrecognisable from each other, but deep down we know it's the same feckin thing.On l'autre hand that could just be me.I'll look into it next week.

Sara said...

Hee hee. I relate, far too well. Procrastination is apparently my occupation.

Lauri said...

How would I write without procrastination? I term it 'pre-writing'. Banning it would do me no good at all.

Interesting post- off to read entire article.

Uiscebot said...

I'm going to write a comment about procrastination, and it's going to be amazing, soon

OSLO said...

Great article. Great post. Maybe we should form a support group - 'Procrastinators Anonymous' - tomorrow.

BarbaraS said...

Thank you, Nuala, I thought it was just me - I am doing anything but write what I'm supposed to be writing. But then I blame all the other stuff that I'm doing... like you I've got projects on the go that involve a lot of talking about writing... on the bright side, I've got a few poems taken recently, so it can't all be bad... and one of them was from Ballinasloe! :)

I think we women spend far too much time beating ourselves up for not writing, when we are simply thinking up the next big thing ;)


So I'm not alone then. Well, that's a comfort.
I think Barbara is right - there's a lot of internal pressure to be writing, without giving credit for all the stuff that is feeding the writing.
I should concentrate on the positive. I too have had some heart-warming acceptances lately, including one from PIR, after them 'losing' my sub, among other things.
It's not as if I NEVER write - I just crave to write more.