Finding Time to Write, Part 3 – Prevarication/Getting Started

So, to business.

If for no other reason than in a doubtless doomed attempt to impress you all, let’s start with a quote from the mercurial French writer, Jules Renard, writing in his journal: “A fly alighting on the sheet of white paper was excuse enough to give himself the right to be idle.  He did not write, for fear of disturbing the fly.”fly

Sound familiar?

We will always find reasons to avoid writing.

We will procrastinate, prevaricate, delay, and then we will look up more words in the Thesaurus.

And then we will stall, defer action, drag our heels, and be dilatory.

And when we all do this, people, we are not writing.

We don’t say: “I’m never going to write my novel.”  Because that would never do.

However we do say: “I’m going to write my novel tomorrow.”

Except of course we don’t.  Because we say the same thing again the next day.  And so it goes on.

William Goldman said: “The easiest thing in the world is not to write.”  And he had a point.

Are you scared on the blank page, as Hemingway so famously was?  Are you great at making notes, mapping out plans, drafting synopses, creating your characters’ back stories, but reluctant to start putting actual words down on the page?  Well, you are not alone.

We all do it – putting off the moment, I mean.  I’ve been plotting and planning my new novel for ages.  I found all sorts of really good reasons not to begin.  I wrote here about the delicious promise of a blank page, and there is no doubt that before you set out on the journey, all that potential is very beguiling – and it seems a shame to spoil all that promise by, you know, actually writing anything.

But at some point you need to take a deep breath, and start writing.  Because if you’re a writer, you write. So you’d better stop making excuses and jump in.

It doesn’t matter if it’s not great.  (I’ve just completed the first chapter of my new novel and I have no intention of reading it for days, if not weeks, because I know I will get disheartened at how rubbish those ten pages are.)  It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Here’s Margaret Atwood, who knows a thing or two about writing:

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

So don’t aim too high. Don’t expect Pulitzer Prize stuff right out of the gate.  Just take a deep breath and just jump in.  Get something down.  It’s invigorating and intoxicating.  You’ll probably find all sorts of strange and interesting things happen.  (Within three lines of starting the first chapter of my new book all of my carefully planned outlines lay in tatters as I found myself writing about horse flies.  These things happen.  Best to go with the flow.)  You can always go back and revise the hell out of it later.  But you won’t even be able to do that until you have some words on the page to mess about with.

My friend Beth Hoffman offered up these fine words of advice elsewhere on the internet: “Don’t fret about getting all the details into first draft; a manuscript is like a cake, let it bake and cool, then go back and decorate!”

So, go bake your cake.

Next up: Getting all efficient on yo’ ass: now you’ve carved out some time and have begun to write – how to stay focused and make the most of your precious time.

Comments 6

  1. Some great quotes, Alex–and I frankly don’t blame the internet for my procrastination. Even as a kid–looooong before the temptations of the web–there was always something to pull me away. The difference now is that we don’t have to actually leave our seats to “leave our seats” mid-work.

    Right now I am on the other end of the spectrum–pages away from finishing the first draft of my next novel and I am finding myself easily distracted. I think there is an ambivalence to finishing writing a novel much in the same way there is in finishing the reading of a good book. You know it has to wrap up and you want to know its conclusion, but still, you want to make it linger.

    Okay, it’s lingered enough. Back to work, I go!

  2. Post

    Hi Erika – funny, I have the same issue when I approach the end of a project. Just when I should be building up a head of steam for the final push, all impetus seems to vanish. You’re right – you want to linger a little longer. I remember feeling very sad when I finished my last novel. I know it sounds awfully pretentious (or self-satisfied), but I really missed my characters!

    Funnily enough, I do tend actually to get up and leave my desk when I am avoiding work. One advantage is that a lot of chores get done.

  3. First….I almost spewed coffee on my keyboard when that giant fly met my bleary eyes this morning!! Way to wake me up here–thanks Alex!

    Second…I am one of the world’s worst procrastinators, I readily admit to it–which is why I need a framework, even a deadline for myself.
    Third…the hardest thing for me is switching between two types of writing; I write news part-time for a living, which means I go back and revise as I’m writing, so as to get the exact meaning into the piece and have it as crisp and concise as possible. When I’m writing an article, or even slogging through something for the book on my dad I hope to publish, I keep trying to go back and edit and revise then….I can’t leave it alone!! And it is very frustrating.

  4. Post

    Mary – I share your pain. I find it incredibly difficult to shift between different modes of writing. I have done occasional journalism here and there and – wrongly, I think – I approach it in the same way that I do my novels. That’s one of the reasons I began this blog. It’s a way for me to write without fretting over every word and revising everything fifty times. I’m getting a bit better but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

    (And sorry about the fly!)

  5. Ouch. You really hit home with this one. I’ve been “working” on my latest blog post (which is of major importance to me, if no one else). By working I mean thinking about it. I don’t know how to say what I want to say but I’ll never say it at all if I don’t sit down and start writing SOMEthing. This was very well said and quite honest without being mean. Honest, witty and nice is difficult to achieve and hard to come by. Thanks for this!

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    Thank you, Katy! I hope you’ll post soon.

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