I’ve always known that my flat tends to be warmer than the outside world. Just how warm was only recently brought home to me, courtesy of a thermometer reading in my study. Today, at 4 PM when I walked it, it delighted in informing me that it was 39 degreesin my workspace at present. Have now turned on the air-conditioning and am waiting for the temperature to drop before scrambling for words.
Minimal writing yesterday (50 or so words), but that was intentional. While I’m still behind, I now feel like a rational human being who lives in a nice flat in which things are clean, rather than an angst-written PhD student who lives in a hovel in which dishes pile up in the sink.
Some random stuff, not really thesis-related, from the last few days:
– New review of Dreaming Again in Locus (Jan ’09), courtesy of Gardner Dozois; I actually scored a short mention among the discussion: Straightforward fantasy (as opposed to horror, although sometimes the line is hard to draw) is best represented by “Twilight in Caeli-Amur” by Rjurik Davidson, “The Last Great House of Isla Tortuga” by Peter A. Ball (another zombie story, but a considerably more subtle and elegant one), and “Manannan’s Children” By Russel Blackford…
– The Fantasy Magazine best story of 2008 poll/comment contest is still running – have you voted yet? They’ve named the top five stories in the lead after a week of voting, which includes the remarkable Watermark by Clarion peep Michael Greenhut. (On the Finding of Photographs of My Former Loves isn’t, but it’s such a strange and introspective little story that I would have been surprised if it was – I heartily endorse voting for Michael; his story is damned good). Also on Fantasy week, a non-fiction article from yet another Clarion peep, Ben Francisco, on the portrayal of 2009 in popular SF media.
– Downloaded and read the latest issue of Kobold Quarterly; they had book reviews in there, including a quite spiffy review of Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels, which resulted in a moment of pure wtfbbq? level of cognitive dissonance followed by a pang of pure adoration for Wolfgang Bauer and his crew for reminding me of why I continued to subscribe to what’s (ostensibly) a d20/DnD gaming magazine despite the fact that I’ve played but a handful of DnD games in the last year or so (and run only two session). Kobold Quarterly continues to be class act, and saddens me that fantasy fiction and DnD have become so separated in my head over the years that this is actually something I feel surprised to see.
– If you ask how the PhD is going and I twitch, it’s probably because I’m trying to think up some suitable lie that will make me feel better more than anything else.
Tonight Clarion South instructor Sean Williams delivered a reading at Avid Reader in West End, which seemed as good a reason as any to bugger the thesis and go listen to Sean read (awesome) and have dinner with a bunch of writer folks in the aftermath (ditto). This is tag-teamed with a trip into the city to pick up my ticket for the Aurealis Awards earlier today, which meant going to Pulp Fiction (at which point, because I was there and breathing, I bought books). In terms of swag, it was a good day to be at Pulp – Cherie Priest’s Not Flesh or Feathers was waiting for me, and will now sit on top of my to-read pile until the exegesis draft is done.
All in all, given that today was meant to get me away from the angst of the thesis, I’m not sure it gets much better than that. But after loading up on fiction and writer-talk, it’s taking every fibre of my being not to start tinkering with a story right now.
So yesterday was a Nick Cave kind of day, full of bombastic self-loathing and the like. It might have gone smoother if I had realised that then, rather than this morning, and just put Henry’s Dream on repeat after posting yesterday’s entry. Instead yesterday went exactly as predicted – long periods of “I must start, I’ll do it X” followed by internal recriminations about how stupid it was, following by long stretches of not-starting or starting-and-getting-nowhere and feeling agitated by the fact that I wasn’t starting. About 500 words ended up being done, so it wasn’t a total loss, but they’re messy and unfocused words that need thorough cutting and reshaping. I’m lost again, and hitting the daily wordcount for the thesis relies heavily on knowing the direction I’m travelling. Today I’m going to do something drastic and intentionally not do any writing; instead, the plan’s to read and cogitate and make some notes and deal with the glorious mess that is every other part of my life for a change. It will leave me behind, yes, but I’m already behind, and it may help me get back on track in a way that my current approach…isn’t.
So, yesterday. Oh, god, let’s not talk about yesterday. It wasn’t fun. Six hundred words and some insomnia, plus some word-count related angst (goal for day ten: 11000 words; actual words written: 6101). I have that awful, loomy feeling of things piling up around me again – not just the mountain of thesis related work, but of everything else that needs doing that isn’t getting done. It was the kind of day for which tetris, mindsweeper and other procrastinator games were invented – fortunately I have neither on my computer, which spared me somewhat; I have a freakin’ black-belt when it comes to procrastination, so I do my best to remove empty temptations like the above.
In lieu of actual content, I give you one of the best descriptions of the procrastination process ever, courtesy of Russel T. Davies:
“How do I know when to start writing? I leave it till the last minute. And then I leave it some more. Eventually, I leave it till I’m desperate. That’s really the word, desperate. I always thing, I’m not ready to write it, I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s just a jumble of thoughts in a state of flux, there’s no story, I don’t know how A connects to B, I don’t know anything! I get myself into a genuine state of panic. Except panic sounds exciting. It sounds all running-around and adrenalized. This is more like a black cloud of fear and failure. Normally, I leave it till the deadline, and I haven’t even started writing. This has become, over the years, a week beyond the deadline, or even more. It can be a week – or weeks – past the delivery date, and I haven’t started writing. In fact, I don’t have delivery dates any more. I go by the start-of-production date. I consider that to be my real deadline. And then I miss that. It’s a cycle that I cannot break. I simply can’t help it. It makes my life miserable.
My inability to start on time is crippling. Any social event – people’s birthdays, drinks with friends, family dos, anything – gets swept aside and cancelled, because there’s this voice inside my head screaming, ‘I HAVEN’T STARTED WRITING!’ I wake up, shower, have a coffee, watch the telly, go to town, buy some food, potter about, buy a magazine, come hom, e-mail, make phonecalls, watch more telly, and it goes on and on and on until I go to bed again, and the whole day is gone. It’s just vanished. Every single minute of the day, every sodding minute, is labelled with this depressing, lifeless, dull thought: I’m not writing. I make the time vanish. I don’t know why I do this. I even set myself little targets. At 1oam, I think, I’ll start at noon. At noon, I think, I’ll make it 4pm. At 4pm, I think, too late now, I’ll wit for tonight and work till late. And then I’ll use TV programmes as crutches – ooh, must watch this, must watch that – and then it’s 10pm and I think, well, start at midnight, that’s a good time. A good time!?A nice round number! At midnight, I despair and reckon its too late, and stay up despairing. I’ll stay that way till 2 or 3am, and then go to bed in a tight knot of frustration. The next day, the same thing. Weeks pass like that.” (The Writer’s Tale 2008: 55)
Every time I read that, I sit there thinking “yes, quite like that, actually,” except it’s not really. For starters, I’d use far fewer exclamation marks, and I’m usually pretty good at getting something written as long as I can reliably break it down into manageable parts (unless, of course, the deadline is self-imposed – those are always the first to disappear in the name of meeting external deadlines). For another, it seems remarkably dishonest; it’s like writer’s block, which is really just a way of saying either I’m stuck and don’t know what happens next or dear god, if I write this and it gets published people will read it and tell me what they think and it might not be good. It is a remarkably good description of yesterday, though, and my thorough inability to separate the next-thingness of the thesis from the overwhelming-wholeness of it. And, looking back on yesterday, I was both stuck and afraid of what happens when the thing gets finished, although knowing that helps not a jot when it comes to preventing today from mimicking yesterday, and my standard tactic of getting around this blockage (write something else until I come up with answers) isn’t terribly productive once you move away from the short story genre (same problem I have with novels, really). And yet, despite being behind, despite the endless hours of not-writing, despite the crippling fear, I look at the January 31st deadline and think, “sure, I’ll make that.” ‘Cause its impossible for me to conceptualise not making it, at this point, despite the fact that I’m not sure how to get from here to there.
So, yes, that was yesterday. I imagine today will be similar. And now it occurs to me that, one day, I really do want to do a paper that looks at the idea of procrastination and writer’s block from the writer’s POV.
The downside of yesterday: the writing went to hell and I started waffling again. This drives me crazy, so I stopped and thought about ways to get around it; the new plan for today is to try short, controlled bursts of wordage written over a half-hour to an hour with two-hour gaps between in which the research is pulled together.
The upside of yesterday: was finally getting books from the library. And eating cereal for dinner. And the air-conditioner, which saved my bacon when I got back from the library and realised it was 36 degrees inside my office at 4pm in the afternoon.