Sunday, 11 September 2016

I is for Idleness

Today is Sunday, and following on from the benefits of getting up from the desk and moving around, and having one's house in decent order, today I want to talk about idleness.

No one can be idle quite like a cat.
 I see a lot of people in writers' groups complaining about so-called 'writer's block'. Now anyone who knows me knows the scorn I hold for this concept. Writers' Block is no more a thing than Santa Claus. Nevertheless, it's a well known phenomenon that writers actually do, from time to time, feel unable to continue working.

I believe there are two causes for this. One is lack of external structures. During my time in the computer industry, there were often times when I felt 'stuck' writing software, but the necessity of producing something to justify my inflated pay cheque was a very powerful motivator; so, too, was the necessity of attempting to do whatever it was for eight hours a day. If you're at your desk all day and can't do anything else, eventually you will often start producing work from sheer boredom. The external structures of a city job mostly work in favour of productivity, from the time your alarm goes off at 0600 you are in the back of your mind getting into work mode, and then you are there all day, with other people seeing you at work. There's no deciding to take a nap to see if your subconscious will contribute something, or suddenly deciding to clean out the gutters. Your working hours are generally fixed and so, too, are your goals and targets. It's a far cry from the life of a working writer, where often there is no structure at all and distractions upon distractions shift and multiply in a kaleidoscope of non-workingness. You are going to be sitting down at your desk at 0900, five mornings a week, and you get your home maintenance, and everything else, done either before you go there or after you get home, or on the weekend. 

'Writers' Block' arising from this cause is basically laziness, and can be easily addressed by putting in place some structures similar to those found in conventional working life - set working hours, daily goals, a project plan and so on. 

The second cause of this mysterious failure of productivity is more often found in those writers who have been going at it like a bull at a gate, and here we also see the effects of a lack of external structure. In a writer's life, there is nothing to tell you to stop work, either. There is a myth current among many writers that you must write every day, that you never take a day off, ever. It gets perpetuated by people like Stephen King and Brandon Sanderson, who seem to do this and get away with it. Nevertheless, if you listen to these guys you will see that they have actually structured their days, and it is not all work by any means. If you keep on and on trying to write in every spare moment, 24/7, sooner or later you are likely to experience that other delightful feature of the computer industry, burnout.

Of course, people in I.T. prate about 'burnout' just as much as writers do about 'block'; it's not really any kind of special thing. What it is is tiredness, the kind of tiredness that cannot be remedied by a good night's sleep. What in my family we call 'month in the country tiredness'.

It needn't take a month in the country to get over this, though, if you are sensible and prevent it from happening in the first place. And here we see the value of that most important tool in any worker's kit - the Day Off. Where you let the pressed fibres of your mind expand into relaxation. Where you read. Where you take long walks with your dog, attend to household matters, watch the sun go down over the back paddock, and generally faff around being lazy. It is in the quiet spaces that ideas come, and plot snarls untangle themselves. I wouldn't like to guess at how many times I've been exercised over some plot issue and it's all come right during the course of a walk with my dog.

So, today is for being lazy. It's a Sunday, so I have the force of tradition on my side. And I've produced over 150,000 words this year, not counting editing and revisions, so I have a comfortable awareness that I'm not just making excuses.

I don't say that I won't write anything today. I may well feel moved to produce another dialogue for Grammar Without Tears. But I am starting the day with a comfortable awareness that today is my Day Off, and if I want to spend the whole day in bed reading trash, then I can do so without guilt. Except for the dog walk, of course. Deerhounds must have walkies.

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