Procrastination: searching through lost time


So I’ve missed my self-imposed deadline of writing one short story a month, and only on the second possible chance to do so. I was even planning on cheating for February, knowing that it offered less time than all the other months. I was going to work over a short story I’d started about a year ago. I didn’t even pull up the file on my laptop. I thought about it. But that’s hardly enough, is it? So why does it take such effort to get me to write, even when it’s the only profession I can see myself enjoying?

There are plenty of excuses I could pull out: work, having kids, other interests, but these would only be excuses. It is true that I can never be caught sitting, doing absolutely nothing. Having an iPhone has taught me that I can’t even wait two minutes in the queue at Starbucks or on the platform for my train without busying myself. I’m almost envious of Tobias Hill, who in a recent profile in the Guardian admits to not having a phone and, so, not being distracted by technology. His ethos is: ‘…the business of the writer is to write.’ Simple and brilliant. I have to sacrifice something and give that freed up time over to writing. Normally, I need quiet and isolation to kick start my brain but maybe I can train myself to, instead of checking emails or Twitter, type out some words of fiction instead.

Megan McArdle recently argued in The Atlantic that writers are the worst procrastinators and that this was because of being high achievers, wanting only to write perfectly or not at all. There’s a tiny bit of this theory I can apply to my own writing but not much; although I can’t be called a high achiever on any scale, I would like my writing to be perfect. This blog, in fact, was supposed to remedy this by being a space for me to rush out my thoughts. On The Flyleaf was about cutting myself some slack, being able to make mistakes, while also getting practice at writing. But I have come to realise that at some point I’m going to make myself vulnerable by posting my short stories here and that thought is terrifying.

I don’t agree with McArdle’s hypothesis and, in fact, see her argument only making sense through eyes of the privileged. She talks of this high achieving that cripples writers stemming from their school days. In my experience, the school system is a very elitist one and those that do well out of it have generally had a leg up thanks to their socioeconomic status. Very few could have climbed up through sheer work and no capital behind them. This remains true later in life too; those writers able to afford the luxury of moving to London have a much higher (and easier) chance of getting involved in publishing. This might all be sounding a little bitter –I hope it doesn’t- but it helps me to see where my own procrastination comes from. If I’m honest with myself, it is in part a twisted version of the above: a completely unmerited sense of entitlement. I see it as my right from an unprivileged background to be handed some luck, a break. I know this is illogical, that I shouldn’t press up my own sweaty writing against other people’s clean successes and that I should work hard to get what I want. But it seeps through my brain in the same way as my fear of heights. It is irrational but nevertheless it is there and stops me from enjoying the view. And, undercutting this, almost at odds with this, I am constantly, quietly asking myself, what have I got to give? What on Earth can I write that people want to read? I’m battling myself. That’s why I find it hard to throw a line down.

Of course, McArdle’s article is about career writers, those writers lucky enough to be paid to meet a deadline. For me, I can only take pleasure in seeing a promise to myself completed. And hope that one day I too can be a Writer. Maybe it’s time to step back and look at my writing in relation to my life rather than my day. I’ve not long tripped into the steeper end of my 30s, so if I’m going to have a writing life, I’d better do something about it soon. The media praise thrown in the direction of an elite young (New Yorker’s 20 under 40, Granta’s Best Young Novelists) shouldn’t make me feel like I’m too late to the game. Stories of the next Samantha Shannons and Zadie Smiths (both of whom have proved they deserve it, by the way) getting huge advances before finishing Oxford should spur me on. And I’m in good company for starting late in comparison: George Eliot was first published at 40 and went on to write one of the undisputed greatest novels of all time, Middlemarch.

Of course, instead of spending time writing out this post, I should have been cracking on with March’s story.