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.
The university library has a mold problem. A significant mold problem that’s led to the closing down of the stacks in the library where most of the books I need are located. Couple this with the library’s odd opening hours until the semester starts and you probably get some idea of where my time went over the weekend – it took three trips, some net-time, and some odd conversations with the librarians as I tried to explain that I didn’t know what the call numbers of the books where because I’m used to just *going there and finding them* after all these years, but I finally got about two-thirds of the texts I wanted this afternoon. The rest at basically MIA, which isn’t going to change until the mold is done with and the library returns to life.
The rest of the weekend was non-productive, but fun. Eberron game on Saturday, lunch with Angela and her fellow clarionite Lisa Hannett on Sunday where we discussed writer-type things, then far to little sleep as I fretted about what I’m going to do if this library situation continues the way it’s going (probably make weekly drives to the Gold Coast, but that’s not ideal…). Now I’m fretting about being behind on the word-count again, but the situation isn’t yet untenable so I should probably stop.
Yesterday was all about the doubt; lots of wondering whether what I’d written the day before was worthwhile and if I should continue in the direction I was going. Previously that led to massive cuts in word-count as I tried to clarify things; yesterday I just bulldozed forward and kept doing what I’m doing. Probably a good sign that it is working, on some level, unlike the other stuff. Or the panic is starting to become a productive force in terms of drafting, rather than a hindrance.
Still, yesterday was slow, and I kind of argued myself into a corner as I pulled apart the idea of genre and exegesis. Not an inescapable corner, but one that stopped me cold at 3 am when my brain couldn’t quite figure out what happened next. Finished the day about 300 words under where I needed to be to ensure a January 31st wrap-up, but that’s not an insurmountable problem yet, just as long as today goes well (and it should). In other news, I killed the second printer cartridge since starting the thesis yesterday.
Oh, and while I remember: does anyone out there have a copy of Orson Scott Card’s How to write Science Fiction and Fantasy? I need to know whether it’s the place where Damon Knight’s “Science Fiction is what I point at when I say Science Fiction” quote shows up in written form (and whether I’m remembering the quote right).
So yesterday was the most solid day of work on the exegesis I’ve had, clocking up over a thousand words and setting up something that actually resembles a segment rather than random ideas that I’m struggling to link together. Basically I’ve been doing in the exegesis a more detailed version of what I did in the first two days here (pull apart the idea of the exegesis itself) and things just started falling into place; huzzah for blogging, without which I’d have never realised that this is what was interesting me and stopping me from going forward.
And while I’m still dreadfully behind based on when I started the process, I’m now on-par as far as wordcount goes (assuming a January 31st finish for the draft), even with the massive cuts of day 3. This is calming news.
I’m due a trip to the library to grab a bunch of books, since the haul I’ve got here was grabbed haphazardly in the hours before the university library’s closed down over the holidays (long story). Realised today that I don’t have the books on Bahktin that I wanted, but they’re local to Nathan campus so it’s not a huge problem; also looking at grabbing some secondary texts while I’m there, since there’s a bunch of interesting genre theory being utilized in some of the research I revisited today and I’m interested enough to go seek it out and give it a once-over. This visiting the library thing is looking more and more difficult to handle, since the university library’s are only open at weird times until classes start again in March. I may have to bite the bullet and go visit them during weekday business hours, horrendous parking costs be damned. Today wasn’t anywhere near as productive as yesterday as a result of the constant looking for references I didn’t really have, but the latest issue of the Gothic Studies journal showed up and it was full of awesome stuff that reminded of exactly why I love academia.
I still, however, want to be working on a story instead of doing this (and I’m still antsy enough to snap any smart-alec who says “hurry up and finish then”).