Thursday, May 08, 2008

And How Do You Noodle?

from Jacqueline

With a deadline fast approaching, it’s a wonder I can do anything but use my writing time to add to my manuscript, racing forth towards the magic 100,000 words from which – with a bit of luck, my sixth novel will be hewn. But here I am, at Naked Authors, grateful for the interruption in my train of thought.

Aw, heck, why don’t I just admit it – at this stage in the game, my so-called creative mind seeks out distractions like a forest seeks out fire after forty years of drought. And it’s amazing what I can come up with.

Cleaning the keyboard is a favorite distraction. Ever since I took a painting class a few years ago and discovered that one of those flat brushes was just the right size to skim between the keys to collect fluff, breadcrumbs, chocolate fragments and even splinters of walnut, I have had that brush close to hand so that I can get down to some serious computerwork at a second’s notice.

Walking the dog doubles as “thinking time” and ever since I read in The Tao of Equus, that time spent with horses jump-starts creativity, I have justified every moment spent in the saddle, no matter how close that deadline.

Washing the dog is a good one. There I am, working away, crafting my sentences, bringing the movie in my head to the blank page, when ... what was that whiff that just caught the end of my nose? Sally, the senior citizen of the house has just walked into my office and is clearly in need of a bath. Never mind that no one else can smell “dog” and she’s never been one of those whiffy dogs anyway, it’s as good a time as any to get out the bucket, hose, shampoo and towels and lather the old girl into submission – oh, what deadline?

On Tuesday my folks arrived from England to stay, and decided to stay at my brother’s house because they knew I had a deadline looming. Nice of them. I should add that my brother lives around the corner, so it’s important, because they’ve come all this way, for me to drop in on them, just to check, after all, you never know, do you?

I have used excuse after excuse not to write when I know I should be writing, when it’s the thing I most want to do but for some reason noodling around in the depths of prevarication seems to be the only thing I can accomplish with any level of expertise.
Now, why is that? Why do we fart around when we should be working?

And here’s the interesting thing: When I had a full-time job and only dreamed of what it must be like to be a full-time writer, I never wasted one second. There was no setting aside that moment before I hit the page running, there was no excuse for not settling at my desk – I had so little precious writing time, that I wasted not one second.

My saving grace is that, ages ago I read the best book on writing on the market – in my humble opinion: On Writing by Stephen King. It’s the only book I have ever read by Mr. King, because I can’t read horror – it scares me too much – but to my mind, it is the best. You’ve probably heard me quote this before, but Mr. King maintains that a writer can complete the first draft of a novel in twelve weeks, based on a minimum daily output of 1200 words. Right there and then, my output goal became 1200 words, and seeing as I wrote my last novel in two months, sometimes I write a bit more. So, I noodle and I brush the keyboard, and I ride a horse and I wash/walk the dog – but I always feel as if I have to answer to Mr. King if I write less than my daily due.

And right now, because I clocked up the magic number today, I’m off for a cup of tea. Oh, that’s another one – stopping for yet another cup of tea ....

What’s your favorite writerly method of prevarication? (And Paul, that shoulder is way too painful to count – hope it heals soon.)

Happy Mother's Day. Ooops, better stop writing and nip out for a card ....


  1. I re-read Stephen King's "On Writing" every year or so. A flight manual for pilots of the keyboard.

    And try S.K.'s "Misery." A writer's worst nightmare come to life. Excellent!

    Typing left-handed,

  2. No, no, no: read The Stand! It's not so much of a scary novel, but it's brilliant for character work. :-D

    Great post Jacqueline! Since I came out of publisher's deadline (imaging and pitches) ten days ago, I've been fighting myself to write. When I couldn't get started on the text, I made myself type up the notes on the plot/murder, contact the Leicestershire and Rutland Constabulary in England, and read some reference stuff. My prevarication included an impromptu cleaning out of the medicine cabinet, getting rid of a small stove and cleaning the kitchen counters, clearing out beneath my work table, and burying my nose in a book. The last wasn't so good as I aggravated a migraine with eye strain. :-(

    But have heard from the Constabulary this morning and am off and running with ideas... :-D

    PS: Think I'll go dig out On Writing again...

  3. I could never write a first draft in 2 months even with Stephen King lurking over my keyboard. But I have great admiration for those of you who can.

    Things I do to avoid writing: check e-mail, snack, check e-mail, clip toenails, check e-mail, check in-basket for overdue bills, check e-mail...

  4. I'm with Patty on the emails/blogs as a distraction, but my favorite way to avoid writing is cleaning the shelves in the refrigerator. It's not like they need it on a daily basis but ...

  5. I re-read his On Writing about once a year.

    The Stand is incredible and The Shining is good, too.

  6. Light chores I'll have to do any way. Yard, pool, all the outdoor stuff.

    My wife won't usually let me inside.


  7. Well, though I'm not an author, I am procrastinating by reading the blog... Oh, and white, no sweet, please!

    J Meadows

  8. I clean my house. I comb the cat. I organize my paperwork. I sharpen all the pencils, even though I never use pencils. I meander through interesting blogs (oops, caught me red-handed).
    Back to writing!

  9. Whoa there - you've all given me new and interesting ways to spend time not writing! I may even clean the refrigerator, after all, I am sure there's some penicillin growing back there. And these blogs, yes, the ultimate distraction. My husband is also a writer, working from home, and I can often hear him playing his guitar when he's supposed to be working - he claims that fingerpicking his way through the blues inspires his work. Yeah, right. (And if another version of this comment appears, well, blame it on the blogger).

  10. Oh, The Stand. Here's my confession: In 1980, I called in sick to work when I wasn't sick. The only time I have ever done that! Because I just could not stop reading. (Sorry Channel 2 news director. I made up the time in other ways, believe me. Really. I did.)

    Procrastination techniques: putting my email into folders. Putting my file of recipes ripped from magazines into a file. Putting the books in the shelves in alphabetical order. Once I actually considered changing the shelf paper in my kitchen cabinets, but that was too obvious a stalling tactic even for me, because no way was I ever going to do that. So I went back to writing.

  11. If you're looking for a Stephen King story to read that won't give you nightmares, I'd suggest the novella "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption". Not an otherworldly thing in sight, and it's wonderful, in my opinion. I love the movie, but I loved the story first.

    Blogs and things around the house and computer games are great ways for me to not do what I need to do.

    Napping is good too. Er, um, or rather "resting so my subconscious can work out some issue". Yeah. That's it!

  12. I think napping is a great stalling tactic, and as you ay, not really stalling, just allowing all that subconscious creative matter to make its way to the surface ... so that you can creatively line your shelves and re-align your books!

    Now then, back to the writing ....