Saturday, 10 October 2009

Writer's foibles

I ought to be working, and so... I bring you this blog entry, not on the theme of procrastination (which I believe has already been quite comprehensively covered both by myself and other bloggers), but on writer's foibles and obsessions.
As a breed, writers are generally accepted to be a neurotic, eccentric bunch. For one thing, a person has to be a bit screwy to want to spend hours of their time making things up. And for a second thing, the conditions that a writer needs to do his or her work - sitting in a room alone, involved with the problems of their characters, depicting and representing what is essentially a 'fantasy world' to others - only exacerbate matters.

Through idly reading through blogs on RedRoom (yes, I should have been working then, as well) and observing my own behaviour - as well as that of writing friends - I've compiled the following list of writer's obsessions.

1. Word counts. How long does it need to be, how many can I write today, how many have I written already, and - horror of horrors - how many might I need to edit out at the end? When so much of our work has an intangible quality, and is subject to - well, subjectivity - word counts give us something concrete, something functional we can hang on to. Never mind the plausibility of the plot, or the coherence of these characters. Word counts are something we can easily judge for ourselves - hell, the word-processor will count them for us - and we don't need objective opinions on. In times of lean inspiration, its the word count who casts his villainous shadow across our work.

2. Comparison with other authors. Am I too old or too young to write a masterpiece like Hard Times? What age was Kazuo Ishiguro when he wrote Remains of the Day? Why did X get his novel published with such relative ease, and what is wrong with me that I can't? Why do I spend so much time messing about on Facebook when I could be working on my novel? I bet Jane Austen never spent this much time commenting on other people's photos. (Only because they didn't have social networking in the 18th century).

3. Notebooks. A separate notebook for everything, and everything in its right notebook. A notebook for keeping track of submissions and competitions, a notebook for writing down true stories from work. A notebook for keeping track of ideas, and a notebook for cutting out funny stories from papers and magazines. A notebook for keeping track of errors and plot lines for the novel, and a notebook for writing to-do lists in. There is no excuse for writing down an overheard conversation in the character-work notebook. Everything must be in the correct notebook, otherwise everything descends into complete anarchy. Boyfriend keeps complaining that there are notebooks all over the house. Suggests that I could perhaps get a notebook to keep a track of where all my notebooks are.

4. Thinking too much. From reading blogs with keywords like "it won't write itself" to "nobody procrastinates like a writer", I've gathered that this is a common problem among us. We all spend hours thinking about what will happen in our books, or what our lives could be like as a 'successful' author (how we define success differs from person to person, of course; for some of us, success is being as commercially successful as Stephen King; for others, success is being as critically acclaimed as Muriel Spark; for others, success might be having a few friends read your work and genuinely enjoy it). From what I've heard, some writers spend hours caught up in these thoughts, and too little time writing. Not that I ever spend too much time thinking myself, with a heavy side-order of unproductivity, you understand. It's just what I've heard from other people.

I realise this is only a short list of four, and that there are probably other writer's quirks and obsessions that I've missed out. I'd be interested to hear other people's thoughts on the strange habits of the writer!

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