Saturday, July 11, 2009

Clearing the decks

Last time I whinged in this my OWN PERSONAL ONLINE SPACE about feeling crushed by the workload, some drive-by psycho, a species of which I seem to get more than my fair share, unless it's just the same one all the time, in which case s/he will no doubt show up again here for another round of ticking off a total stranger for what she writes in her OWN PERSONAL ONLINE SPACE, and if s/he does, the comment will be binned, and God if there's one thing I do love it's a subordinate clause, turned up in the comments box and snottily pointed out with a disturbing amount of hostility considering that it's a total stranger, or perhaps it isn't, which would be worse, and isn't it interesting that these people are always anonymous, which I think is pathetic, that I'd get more work done if I didn't spend so much time blogging about how much work I have to do.

Now while this is doubtless true, it shows a deep ignorance of the writing process and its many stages, most of which are not visible to the naked eye. I was reminded of this by a wonderful post from ThirdCat, currently in Spain and on her way to Scotland where she will perform in her own one-woman standup show at the Edinburgh Fringe, which is one of the things the post is about. She considers blogging the whole process in a series called the Road to Edinburgh and then remarks
a ‘Road to Edinburgh’ series threatens to be a bit like a term-long school project at the end of which the teacher might write, ‘Tracy might have done better had she spent more time doing her project and less time talking about it.’

Now as you can see, this teacher and my drive-by psycho (who I sometimes think is no more than a projection of my own superego, which is the bit that stands over you like a sergeant-major telling you to be good and obey the rules, as opposed to the id, which is the bit that keeps getting Barry Hall and Sam Newman into trouble) have a great deal in common. But I think they are both wrong and here's for why.

The writing process, as any writer will tell you, and not just creative writing but any writing, is a series of complex manoeuvres, all of which but the final writing-it-down are invisible to the naked eye. You have to do a great deal of mooching and faffing and dreaming and meditating and wandering off down blind alleys. You have to, as it were, draw sketches and rub them out and draw more sketches. I've said before in other places that I think blogging is like dreaming and one of these days (when I don't have so much work to do, and am therefore living on nettle soup) I'm going to actually read up on dreaming and write something substantial about writing and blogging and dreaming.

But for the moment I have cleared my head to get back to work (being here at the computer at 7 am on a Saturday morning because I woke up worrying about the workload and couldn't get back to sleep) by the simple expedient of whining about it first, and somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious, two book reviews have been forming themselves into sentences and paragraphs.


Ampersand Duck said...

yes,yes yes! Thank you for justifying the last 36 hours of mooching, faffing and general whimsy. I will print out this post and staple it to certain foreheads. It applies to writing, art-making and other meetings of creative deadlines.

It's the sting in the nettle soup that prevents falling into the dream, isn't it?

Ann oDyne said...

Yes yes yes oh yes I say yes, and salute your positively MollyBloomian paragraph too.

The nasty commentors are more frequently anonymous than known, and that makes them cowardly as well as nasty.

A piece of your work was published in Melbourne last week, and your name on it had only a subliminal effect on my consciousness, so that half-way through, I started composing (in my head) a comment, before realising I was Not Reading Your Blog.

cristy said...

Um, yes. This has been precisely my experience with my thesis (including the annoying judgemental voice in my head). When it all comes together, writing flows rather quickly. The rest of the time I am feeling blind and often need to do something else in order to let the back of my brain sort everything out.

The real trouble comes when I accidentky switch off the back of my brain. Looking after the small person will do that to me.

Penthe said...

Yes and utterly yes. I find it strange at work where they employ hundreds of people to write stuff and then don't let them have time to think and mooch their way into writing stuff. So it all sounds like crap and the ideas are never resolved. I have this constant internal primal scream about it that never quite makes it out of my teeth, except as repressed whining and whimpering. I appreciate hearing about your productive mooching, whining and writing processes.

Link said...

It's amazing what you can get done while procrastinating.

I realise he's not altogether popular around some parts, but I was greatly amused to read a day in the life type essay(or was it a book?) by Clive James. His day consisting of tidying up his desk a phone call and then the mid-morning nap. (Oh looky), time for lunch, followed, (naturally), by an after-lunch forty winks. Another fiddle around at the desk, afternoon tea and then another little lie down. It was quite a revelation to know that someone like Clive actually spends some of his days doing so very little. Then of course there's Oscar Wilde's famous quip about taking the comma out in the morning and putting it back in the afternoon.

Someone once suggested that going home, lying on the bed and waiting, was quite often the most effective course of action. There's no point beating oneself up about it of course, as that achieves precisely zilch and is very . . . er middle class.

Perhaps some writers are as I've heard suggested (by one or two of their own) both bone lazy and vain--truly a diabolical mix for getting stuff done and out there. Not that I'm suggesting that of you my dear!

OTOH, Hazrat Inyat Khan (who I wouldn't necessarily believe in all matters) suggests that actual creativity when it happens can be a remarkably speedy affair.

Seems it's just getting there that's a bit slow. But of course it's the journey innit? That's the important part . . .Time to clean up the laundry . . . or maybe I'll just keep reading . . . almost time for bed.

innercitygarden said...

I think when people make criticisms along the lines of "get on with your work rather than posting" they are overestimating how long posting takes. Posting is quick, it's reading everyone else's blogs that takes the time.

They're also ignoring the fact that everyone, creative or otherwise, takes breaks. Even when we've got huge piles of work to do. Some people smoke, some blog, some offer to do the coffee run, some wander around their open plan office and distract everyone else with photos of their grandchildren or their wedding plans. When my partner moved from a home office to a shared space he found his productivity was compromised by the feeling that he should look like he was working all the time, when what he wanted to do was pace around the office sorting through a problem.

naomi said...

I so hear you Innercitygarden - I am the office writer and it's impossible to explain to workmates who think that you are literally faffing about that you NEED to cruise the internet for 2 hours before putting a word down, and yes, the desk does need windexing before you finish that report.

Number one reason why writers should work at home. Because at home (if you live by yourself) there is no one to say 'shouldn't you be working?' Of course if you are partnered/married there is no refuge.

Drive by commenter said...

Innercitygarden, stop reading all those blogs and GET BACK TO WORK!!!

Helen said...

I often experience a work problem-solving moment while walking the dogs or in the shower. Note that the people complaining about modifying the workplace to accommodate peoples' lives aren't offering to pay us for those moments. (Not so relevant to the self employed, I know!)

M-H said...

Oh yes yes yes yes. At the risk of being repetitive, yes. I have a composting theory of writing: you read, or think, or read and think, maybe taking notes, then you have to wait. The brain will take what you have put into it, mix it with what is already there, and turn the mess into something quite different. Often by starting to write (something, anything) that process is accelerated. And I write to think: often it is only by writing that I figure out what I think about something. Lots of theory about this, but it's not understood by people who can't or don't write.

Ariel said...

Ye-eeees. My god, you've described my day today, and in fact my week. Not just described it, but given it credibility. Thank you.

Sometimes the more thoughtful the work, the more you think about it and the more you have to say; the harder it is to translate those thoughts onto paper in a coherent way. Or that's my experience anyway. Frustrating but true.

Anthony said...

"they are overestimating how long posting takes. Posting is quick"

That must be the case because I read lots of highly perceptive and literate blogs by people who also seem to be incredibly productive in other fields of writing or creativity. I would have thought posting was hard, fraught work, and I would never start a blog because I'd procrastinate so much about posting that nothing would ever get posted, never mind letting posting itself serve as a form of procrastination vis-a-vis other activities

Deborah said...

I'll just join the general chorus of yes-es. And yes, I sometimes turn a blog post over in my head for a few days before actually writing it. And yes, I know all about getting up early to work due to the pressure of deadlines and volumes and all that, though perhaps getting up at 2am to work is not such a good thing to do. And yes, sometimes an hour weeding in the garden is just exactly the right way to approach work.

But contra that, in the last four months or so of doing it, I just drove myself to finish my thesis, no matter what. 'Though that was almost certainly due to my ever increasing girth, and the looming deadline of my twins' arrival. Nothing like a really scary deadline to motivate writing.

innercitygarden said...

I should clarify: posting CAN be quick Anthony. Some posts are written and revised by people who've done lots of thinking and research. A post about one's workload, a clear-the-decks whinge before getting on with it, is something one can write quickly.

I have a tendency to do lots of reading and delay the writing, so as a student I took to sitting down with an alarm clock at nine o'clock in the morning and treat writing like doing an exam. There was absolutely no getting up for at least an hour. Once I'd focussed on the task for an hour I'd identify areas that needed more research and thinking, but I was in the groove of work by then so it was ok to get up for a minute. Now I find taking my kid to childcare operates in the same way (I know I only have x hours til I pick him up again).

Armagnac Daddy said...

I get Beloved thinking I've got lots of time on my hands, and my superego tells me off for posting at lunch (admitting sometimes lunch does occur at odd times of the day, as currently when I've thoroughly demolished my panini and really need to be getting the fcuk back to regulation drafting!), but the truth is with personal posts in particular they tend to download in a stream of consciousness that takes on average probably no more than about 10 minutes.

Which other people spend pissfarting around at the coffee machine, smoking outside, emailing jokes around ad nauseum.

So... my point.. I think I was agreeing with something you said!

Pavlov's Cat said...

LOL, almost everybody.