Boot polishing is the form of procrastination I resort to when all other forms of avoidance (ironing, hoovering, mowing the lawn, weeding, bouts of social media distraction, nail painting, and picking my split ends) have failed to result in me finding the solution to a writing problem.
For that is what I believe procrastination to be: a way not only of avoiding writing, but a method of giving the brain a different task to do, which can often result in the solution appearing as if from nowhere. A bit of procrastination can often help solve literary problems.
When I had a brain injury and I had to teach myself how not to be a workaholic, I read a book about how to be idle. This book was a life changer for me until a friend’s husband (who I might add is one of the few partly enlightened beings I’ve ever met – and that includes some lamas) pointed out the glaringly obvious:
Friend’s husband: “Well the author’s not much good at being idle is he!”
“Why do you say that? His book was full of loads of brilliant advice about doing nothing.”
Friend’s husband looked at me with a mixture of amusement and incredulity and added in his soft marshmallow voice, “he wrote a book.”
Dorr! Yes, of course writers are doomed when it comes to doing nothing. Even when we’re not writing we’re crunching over whether to kill off Susan, or make James nastier. Hence the need for us perpetually restless souls to do something if the writing’s not flowing. So this afternoon as I wrangled with a book’s voice that is not working, I polished my winter boots all ready for windswept walks across the South Downs. No doubt those winter walks will include more pondering about how to resolve the problem of the monster of a second draft I’m currently wrestling with.
Of course, we wouldn’t have it any other way, and the moment of eureka when the book starts to work is all worth it, so don’t be disheartened if a piece of writing’s not going how you want it to. Find something practical to do instead, and trust the solution will eventually present itself (I say this for my own benefit today too!)
Best foot forward!
Categories: Creative Writing