Archive for the ‘procrastination’ Category


Sunday, January 30th, 2011

I think the fetishisation of process is both an exercise in procrastination (for the maker) and a refusal to engage with the finished work (for the audience).  But what do I know?

From the Q and A section of Jon McGregor’s website – in answer to a question about the pens and paper he uses to write with.

As always, I’m in two minds. I’m  not sure if I should have this quotation printed out on the back of my business cards, tattooed on the inside of my eyelids and scrawled in black marker on the wall in front of my desk  – or if I should write a long ranty blog post about how much I disagree with the sentiment.

I admire Jon McGregor’s work hugely and as a writer I can hear his frustration with interview questions about typewriters and at times I have shared it. But then discussions about ‘process’ more generally are a huge part of what I do as a teacher – helping students to learn technique, or to isolate and improve the technique they are already using instinctively. I think having students reflect on how they write and to examine how other writers read and write is integral to their improvement.And it is what I try to do to improve my own writing.

But then again, what do I know? I am always in two minds about everything.

I’ve noticed several spats going on in facebookland recently about various political events – topics I never talk about in public at all. This silence of mine is because I believe the days when novelists had status as public intellectuals and rent-a-gobs, trotted out for an opinion on every major event in public life are gone, and properly so. We make things up, more or less well. We use stories to comment on the real world. Or we don’t. We use fiction to tell the truth. Or we don’t. Why would any of that make our opinions especially valuable?

And my silence also exists because I am so utterly of my generation it is unreal. I find it more or less impossible to come down on any particular side in very many subjects. Everything I write examines the idea of truthfulness, of reliable arguments, of words meaning what they are supposed to mean. Point of view. It isn’t that I don’t care – it’s just that by virtue of being a writer I think I’ve made it impossible for myself to engage with these debates in any meaningful way.

Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a household where there was certainly a right and a wrong way to see the world, and my opinions about things were consistently wrong. Growing up under the weight of that kind of intellectual violence makes me uninterested in dishing it out to others. So if you disagree with me, I’m not interested in proving you wrong or convincing you to think what I think. If I even think it.

It feels very important to me to practice informed disinterest. I know it is an impossible stance to truly have. But I am interested in getting there.

Which brings me back to Jon McGregor. Maybe he’s right and I’m wrong after all.

Maybe all this blogging about writing, teaching writing, reading writing and talking about reading is just getting in the way of the reading and writing. Maybe the reflection is the final step of the process, maybe it’s just all hot air.

I think it probably depends.

And if this all sounds like cowardly navel gazing and a waste of words to you, well, I can see the value in that argument too.

Christmas Zombie Links of Love

Monday, December 13th, 2010

This is why my friend Rob is my friend Rob.

And see, actually, I think I could kill my nearest and dearest at a moment’s notice.

Who needs a blindfold?

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

On her blog, Elizabeth Baines* reports that Jonathan Franzen claimed to require blindfolded solitude in order to complete his novel. A requirement, like all the best stories about authors, that turned out to be apocryphal (i.e a lie).

It reminded me of a game I did in the last workshop I taught before the summer – one designed to help people get going with their novels, get unstuck with half-finished works or get the courage to turn their never-spoken-out-loud-before idea into a pile of paper. One of the common things that I’ve discovered stops people getting started is feeling that they need something they haven’t currently got – a real office, a better computer, two days free every weekend, older children, new pens… they wait for this magical blindfold-thing to appear, and wait, and never write a word.

The task I do in the workshop is to get all the participants to contribute to a list of things they ‘need’ in order to get started and then we have a discussion around the items on the list – what are real ‘needs’ and what are excuses for delay and procrastination? No-one ‘needs’ a real office or room of their own, even though it’s nice to have, but perhaps spending an afternoon clearing off the table in the hall way would be time well spent. A pen and paper, some privacy and access to a computer are reasonable requirements for getting started. Three afternoons a week in a café for fag smoking and beard-stroking? You should be so lucky. And blindfolds? Days or weeks of silence and solitude? Not if you live in the real world, or with other people, or need to go to Morrison’s now and again and don’t have anyone to heat your beans up for you.

Silence and long periods to concentrate in are brilliant. I snatch them when I can get them. I’d love a room of my own but for now I’m happy to share and I don’t think the stories are poorer for it. These things are lovely, and they help, but they shouldn’t stop you starting and not having them doesn’t make you a pretend-writer. What about the novels written on trains, in cars during lunch hours, in prisons, on the kitchen table while babies scream overhead? When you’re reading a book can you tell if it’s been written in silence and calm during a series of expensive retreats, or in two hour bursts between the requirements of a job and the school run? A blindfold might help some writers, but I think it hinders a lot of other writers who get luxuries mixed up with necessities and swallow the story that the business of writing is somehow more mysterious than other jobs – that writers are allowed to make claims that bus-drivers and child-minders aren’t (I need a blindfold, I need to be in the mood, I need a special room to do it in).

What do you need? Do you have it yet? Is your writing the better for it?

*whose book, Too Many Magpies, I read recently and is a beautifully brief, eerily spare account of an affair, among lots of other things.

Editing + Sound Track

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Hard at work for a little while at least, and working through my edits to Cold Light straight onto the manuscript with a new nice pencil which I get to stop and sharpen now and again. Desk cluttered with coffee mugs (I’m a tea-drinker, but I was also up five times last night) and two kinds of pencil sharpeners, post-it notes, a pile of books that I planned to while away my maternity leave reading (pfft!) and a bowl full of paper-clips that I made myself. The bowl, not the paper-clips. I think I’d like to go back to my pottery class this autumn.

Pencils are almost as good as fountain pens and bottles of ink for mid-sentence procrastination. Examining the lead, sharpening, rubbing things out and putting them back in again. Slowly, one line at a time. But not as good as deciding you need to listen to some of the songs mentioned in the book in order to make sure you’re ‘conveying atmosphere’ exactly right.

Readers, for your listening and viewing pleasure:

Brain Food

Monday, September 7th, 2009

Here is a list of the books I’ve read in the last month.

Richard Yates: Revolutionary Road
Sebastian Faulks: Engleby
Banana Yoshimoto: Lizard
Yaba Badoe: True Murder
David Ebershoff: The 19th Wife

Here is a list of things I want to find out during September:

The correct names for parts of boats
Rates of decomposition in corpses and things that affect this
Average sea temperature in Morecambe Bay
Procedure at a press conference
Procedures when casting and filming crime reconstruction videos

Please Win Me A Mug

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Hee hee.

I just found out I’ve been long-listed for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize. Apparently, the winner gets a special Guardian Mug.

You all know how I love my tea, don’t you?

Off you go and vote (for me, or other fine books of your choice on the long-list). Voting closes on the 23rd August, so I won’t harass you about it too many times before then.

More Lists

Monday, April 13th, 2009

You know what gets my goat? What REALLY gnarls my chizzle?

1. Groups, clubs, scenes, schools, societies, churches.
2. Matching lipstick and nail varnish.
3. The phrase, ‘I think you’ll find,’
4. BT, the DVLA, TV Licensing people, landlords, estate-agents.
5. People who laugh while walking away, and try to hide it by ducking their head, but me being able to tell because their shoulders are shaking.
6. People being late. If you’re going to be more than five minutes late, ring me. I won’t wait otherwise.
7. Winking. After nearly two years of working in a prison, being winked at has lost its appeal.
8. The man on the beach yesterday whose dog did a poo on the sand. He put it in a plastic bag (black) tied up the top and then slung it behind a sand-dune. WHAT? I had to be forcibly restrained from giving him the poo back, and quite forcefully.
9. Ulterior motives/tact. Nine times out of ten I am just not going to understand if you say, ‘oh, do you think those orange socks work well with that suit?’. Just spit it out. Out.
10. Blogging. Ugh what a bunch of narcissists. It is sickening. I keep meaning to give it up. Really.

3 for 2

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Now look at this. It isn’t supposed to be out yet! Jane told me Southport Waterstone’s have been very quick off the mark. And Chris, Sian and Socrates have just cleaned out Derby Waterstone’s.

So I suppose it’s ‘out’ now. If you aren’t sure which three books to buy for your three for two offer, just do what Jane did.


Prize winners announced tomorrow.

Theme Ingredients

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

I often think of writing as a bit like cooking. All the ingredients are things that are already in my head, and my mind acts like a washing machine, skooshes them all about, and then I write, and bits and pieces turn up in the strangest places.

That theory means I should be careful about what I put into my head in the first place. Choose only the best ingredients. One of the ingredients this week was riding about in a car that had a television inside it. I kid you not, my friends, such things exist.

The other ingredient is here, which comes courtesy of Socrates at Chicken and Pies.

If my writing output becomes a little odd, you know who to blame.

EDIT: Probably best not to watch this if you are sensitive. Or vegetarian. Or you just like animals. Sorry.

Through The Roof + Porn + Photoshoot

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Hits to this blog are getting worse and worse every day. What is wrong with you lot? Has the tinterwebs run out of porn?

On Saturday there is going to be a photoshoot to do with the cover for the book (Amazon, buy now, etc. etc.). There’s going to be, I think, a girl there pretending to be Annie. I had an email from James asking me about possible nail polish and dress and nightie. I haven’t thought about what Annie looks like for a long time, but she was still there.

Be careful when you invent a person. I don’t think they ever quite leave you. I’m certain her voice is lingering on the ends of my fingers and I could type her into life again very easily.

This is one of several versions we’ve had of this book cover. I can see why she’s hard work. The trick of the book – the thing that I found most entertaining to write and the bit I am hoping people find most entertaining to read – is the grey part between what Annie thinks of herself, and what we think of her. I’ve tried to get both views into the story – like ghosts superimposed one on top of the other. I’m not sure how you’d show that in a picture. Which is why I leave it to the experts.

Blog question for today: this is going to be a quiz. Some participation. Some novel writing 2.0. Think of a cocktail and make up a name for a snuff film. Stand by for tomorrow.

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