It’s a common lament for many frustrated writers: I’d like to get more writing done, but I just don’t have the time.
But is that true, or do we just waste the time we do have? On one night recently I had that precious commodity: time. My daughter was in bed and snoring by 8pm, my wife — tired and a little under the weather — had gone to bed too. There was nothing on TV, I was ahead of schedule in my day job to wasn’t tempted to log on and do extra work.
In short, I had what I always long for — time to write.
So what did I do? If you answered “write” then you’re wrong.
Instead I tidied and cleaned. Did some laundry. Washed some dishes (and honestly, they weren’t a lot, it could have waited). I spent far longer than I should have searching for the TV remote my fourteen-month-old daugher had hidden or lost somewhere (even though I didn’t want to watch TV!).
Granted, most of that procrastination was at least useful in some way. But none of it was urgent. It all could have waited until the next day.
Why am I such a procrastinator? Why are writers, in general, procrastinators? To be clear, I know there are writers out there who are not, and can sit down to write without feeling an urge to check their email 5,000 times first, but most writers I know would admit to procrasinating — at least until there’s a looming deadline.
The reason is fear.
It’s hard to be a writer and not be a perfectionist. It’s easy to spot bad writing, to critise it, to read a hackneyed bestseller and think “I can do better than that”. What’s hard is, well, actually doing better.
Writing is hard. Writing anything good is harder. Writing something that lives up to the idea of the novel or the article in your head is even more difficult.
Sitting down to write means giving life to something that lives only in your head — something of pure potential that, in that state, can never be ruined. But then you put fingers to keys (or pen to paper) and you’re assaulted by a first draft of typos, cliches, meandering scenes and expositionary dialogue.
When I put off writing to do a mundane task instead, it’s because I’m scared that the time spent won’t produce anything good. That’s the heart of it for me. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I can remember but there’s always a voice in the back of my head saying but you might not be very good at it.
The key is trying to tell that voice that it doesn’t matter. If I pretend that I’m writing only for myself and no one will actually see it then it doesn’t matter. I can just get the words out onto the page and (hopefully) make them good later.
I’m going to try that next time I have some free time. I’m not publishing this novel, I’ll tell myself. It’s just for me. It’s just for fun. Then maybe my brain will let me write, and leave the laundry for tomorrow.