05 June 2023

Write the next chapter, or install a new mailbox? Hmm.

I always want to be doing anything other than the thing I’m supposed to be doing.  This is the impulse that drives my productivity.  It’s why I have so many irons in the fire, because there’s nothing like a fresh iron to take your mind off the ones already in the forge. 

The problem with working on the thing I’m supposed to be working on is it’s hard.  It’s hard because people are usually waiting for it to be finished by a certain deadline.   It’s much easier to be working on something no one is waiting for, because no one but you knows it’s being worked on.  These projects are always my favorites.  They’re only between me and my anonymous impulses.  Since I always feel compelled to write stuff, this is a happy state.  I get to do what I want with no danger of pressure or reproach. 

I think most writers are the same way.  Procrastination yields tremendous results.  There’s nothing like a short story deadline to get a person out there in the garden transplanting shrubbery, or calling up neglected relatives to learn how they’re doing, even if the response is to wonder why the hell you’re calling them in the first place. 

The urge to procrastinate is behind all my re-writing.  I tell myself I can’t possibly write anything fresh, but I can always invest screen time going over existing material.  The result is very useful rejiggering, which often stumbles into fresh composition, despite myself. 

I don’t fear the blank page.  In fact, I like it.   What I fear is hard work, which original writing always is.  I know I can do it, since so far I always have, though that doesn’t mean I don’t resist launching the effort.  I feel the same way about preparing my taxes or hauling out the trash.  All past evidence proves I can do these tasks, and when I’m done, will feel richly satisfied.    But getting started is a drag.  And since I’m an inherently energetic person, I look for something else to do instead, like study the Ming dynasty or repaint the living room.  

I’ve published 18 books so far and written about 22.  Not to mention all those short stories and essays.  And written countless lines of commercial copy.  Enough writing to have cleared a few acres of Southern pine and done some damage to my elbows and carpel tunnels.  But I marvel at people like Isaac Asimov, who would wake up in the morning and just write all day long, rolling his chair from typewriter to typewriter writing several books, or scientific papers, simultaneously.  Did his fingers ever get tired?   The late, great Donald Bain published 125 books.  How many more did he actually write?  How did he keep his elbows going?  

Did Asimov, Bain, and that other freak of productivity, Stephen King, feel drawn to write because they were avoiding something else they thought they should be doing?  Origami?  Cleaning out the garage?  Learning French?

All the best writing advice says you should sit down in front of the keyboard every day for a subscribed amount of time and write something.  I never do this.  My subscribed amount of time appears willy-nilly, often when I’m avoiding doing something else I really should be doing.  Suddenly, there I am, sitting down in front of the keyboard.  This could happen at any time day or night, any day of the week.  As it constantly does.

Now that I’m done writing this, I’ll go split the wood that’s been calling to me.


  1. I hear you. Always want to do something that I can't/shouldn't be doing right now.

  2. One thing I've figured out, reading about Asimov, King, and other super writers, is that they always had a chief cook and bottle-washer to take care of all their needs, leaving them with nothing to do but sit at that desk and write forever (and occasionally drink, if I remember correctly). Not in my house...

    1. I have no such advantage, and I wouldn't want such a thing. A fair distribution of domestic effort is the only fair thing. That written, my wife does a lot of things I just wouldn't do, and vice versa. You hope it all comes out in the wash.

    2. My situation is simply medical; I'm my husband's caregiver. He has multiple health issues. I scramble a lot. But - I still get some writing done. And back when he was healthy, we had a very fair distribution. Age takes its toll.

  3. I have had a book half finished for twenty years and a short story that needs revision, but when I sit down the computer I fine blogging less intimidating and easier - so I avoid the commitment.
    the Ol'Brzzard

    1. I'm very lucky that nothing blocks me, though for those who experience this, I always suggest Anne Lamott's shitty first draft, featured in Bird By Bird.

  4. You caught me! Here I am, putting off my 11 am start (it's 11:12) by popping on here, grin. And yes, I agree with Eve. Men of a different era may have had it good. We all need someone to take care of all our needs, so that we can clear our minds of nothing but the WIP.


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