They say procrastination is crack for writers. But they say a lot of things. I don’t even know what it means, but I think it’s true.
When I started out as a writer I was working with a fabulous bloke and great Australian satirist, the late John Herovium. We were working on something that had to be finished by Friday. “I’ll come over Wednesday morning,” I said. “No,” he replied, “ I won’t be scared enough. Make it Thursday night.”
There is nothing more heart pumping, sphincter tightening and adrenaline producing than a deadline. Comfort is the enemy of art and fear is a great motivator, particularly if you have to pay your rego. But fear is also a great inhibitor if you have nothing to lose. Despite having creative satisfaction and that thrilling post coital feeling of getting something done to gain.
Last year I was sitting on a beach in Far North Queensland eating a packet of Chicken In A Biscuit and rereading the same paragraph for the eighth time as I watched my three little boys play Kill Me In The Face. Which was a welcome change from their usual games, Kick Chasey, Snot Wars and Hide and Spit.
An almost friend from years ago recognized me. She told me her mum had been enjoying my weekly cries for help in the newspaper. ‘Mum really wants to be a writer. She’s been talking about writing her memoirs for years. She has amazing stories. She’s 77. Have you got any advice for her?”
“Yes,” I said. “Tell her to do the writing before she folds the washing. Do the writing before the ironing. Do the writing before getting dressed, having a shower or eating breakfast. Do the writing first. Because there is always something you can be doing instead of writing.”
More than being paid for writing or even seeing your work published getting the writing done and winning the battle with procrastination is the biggest triumph. The sad thing is that it’s usually at three in the morning two weeks after the deadline. Basking in the post coital felling of Getting Something Finished you find yourself thinking, “I love doing this. Why do I leave it ‘till the last minute? I waste all that time feeling guilty and beating myself up about pulling my finger out to do something I love.” It’s not about praise, prizes being published or paid. It’s about proving. Proving to yourself you can do it. And you did. There is no better feeling.
We want to write. We do. It’s just scary and hard work. And usually disappointing. Our writing is rarely as good as we want it to be. My writing life spans 18 years and in that time there have only been a handful of things I’ve written that I’m happy with. The rest make me cringe. But it’s the possibility that we may blow our own minds that propels us. We’re junkies hanging out for a hit.
There are people who write and there are writers. Writers have to write. It’s like having a shit. If you’re a writer who isn’t writing it wells up inside and makes you sick. Robert Hughes summed it up for me. “I feel guilty when I’m not writing and when I’m writing I feel guilty I’m not writing well enough.” I’m worse. I’m promiscuous. A writing slut. When I’m writing I fantasize about writing something else. My mate Lou is a writer. She says, do stuff for love, do stuff for money, do nothing for neither. Sometimes it feels like an intoxicating one night stand. Other times I feels as if I’m turning tricks. $100 an hour, no kissing. The rest of the time I’m just looking for love.
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