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Ooooooh, yes

It must be terribly stressful for a writer to be put in the position of having to write when he doesn’t feel like it. (Could I be wrong? Do most writers actually thrive on that kind of stress?)

Most? Actually, any, I dunno. But if I’ve not got a deadline then I find out that procrastination is something – possibly the only thing – that I’m really very, very, good at.

Worry about editors impatiently awaiting a promised manuscript never enters the picture. I don’t make promises, so I don’t have deadlines. As a result, writer’s block and I are strangers to each other.

Don’t think it’s writers’ block that I have. Laziness maybe? Or even short termism possibly. That grand book project might well – well, no probably won’t but you grasp the point – make my name but that 500 words might pay $50 next week. One is an incentive I react to, the other isn’t. I fail, perhaps, the marshmallow test.

17 thoughts on “Ooooooh, yes”

  1. Some writers have the opposite problem. The collected works of Victor Hugo take up yards of shelf space.
    I told my kids that if they got stuck in the Bac Philo exam to make up a quote and attribute it to him. No one could possibly be bothered to check.

    Q. Who is the greatest French poet?
    A. Victor Hugo. Alas! (attributed to Andre Gide)

  2. The usual advice is to break a big task into smaller ones. Writing a book is an impossible task; but writing a chapter, or at least an outline, is attainable.

    The hard part then is knowing when to stop gilding the lily and just hand it over, warts and all, to an editor.

  3. It must be terribly stressful for a writer to be put in the position of having to write when he doesn’t feel like it.

    It must be terribly stressful for a welder to be put in the position of having to weld when he doesn’t feel like it.

  4. Victor Hugo. Alas! (attributed to André Gide)

    Yes but Gide was a near contemporary give or take a half centurey – had he been born later or Hugo earlier he would have seen the wheel of literary fashion turn and his outlook would perhaps have been broader.

  5. @TMB
    Yes, I’m a Mallarmé fan myself. Entire oeuvre would fit in a fortune cookie.
    Rimbaud, at a push, though I think he found his metier as a colonial bureaucrat.

  6. The only real common denominator I’ve found in professional writers ( at least the ones I’m interested in and who put out memoirs/editorial blurbs in anthologies/omnibusses/had their corrspondence published, etc..) over the past century is their unending capacity to procrastinate given half the chance.

    Which may well be one of the distinguishing features between a professional and an amateur writer: The ability to Resist, and haul your ass to the typewriter to treat your work like work, like any bog joe out there.

    Disclosure: I’m, at best, in the amateur camp here.

  7. I had four weeks to submit a report by midnight last night. I finally wrote it at 4pm. 🙂

    But this was mainly other things getting in the way of my life the last few weeks. Otherwise I try and get things done with time in hand. I submitted my tax return in September, though one year I had to take a taxi to hand it in by hand at the local tax office at 4pm on 31st January! That was pure procrastination.

  8. I recognise the trade off between long term and short-term incentives. Sadly as you get older there is less long-term to incentivise one. Thus the book may never be written.

  9. Has Tim trained himself to prefer knocking out 500 words for the reward within a week, instead of 80/100,000 over 12/18 months?

  10. With writing, it’s a bit of an aw-diddums thing isn’t it? If you’re having trouble writing it there’s an inexhaustible supply of people who can.

  11. Southerner: I’m like that with coding. Programs are a by-product of my metabolic processes, couldn’t stop it any more than I could stop emitting carbon dioxide.

  12. I’ve often thought I should take up writing as a career. I’ve got the procrastination and displacement activity part nailed.

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