Sunday, 20 October 2013

Procrastination is my Middle Name

Actually, it’s Karen.

I’m not sure if I was named after the actress Leslie Caron, but I’ve always blamed her as the namesake who doomed me never to be elfin or sylph-like. Oh, but that’s a whole other story – see what I mean about procrastination?

I mentioned in my last blog post that I was starting a fresh project. In between sending off my first novel to agents and publishers and draping the dust sheets over its sequel, I’ve been researching and plotting my new novel.

The opening sentence came to me in the middle of the night some time in September, and was quickly followed by the first chapter and the character of my protagonist, who will be living with me for the next few months, but since then I haven’t written a whole lot more. I haven’t even made changes to this first chapter following some excellent suggestions and comments from the children’s writing group I go to. 

I’ve researched plenty though. I love researching. I love the way one pathway can lead to another, sending me on a voyage to so many interesting places, but for me it is also a trap of procrastination and I think I’ve fallen into it.

Google is also my biggest distraction, and while in theory I could just not use it, could even turn the router in the cupboard off, I don’t. I sit and play on the computer. Oh, I don’t play games. No Candy Crush for me. I can’t allow myself to get into that. It’s bad enough that I have Yahtzee and Rummy 500 on the computer. No, I follow weird and wonderful Google searches, which take me to interesting sites where I learn what zentangle is or where I get sidetracked by articles about 80s bands.

How much I procrastinate came home to me quite powerfully when my husband and I took ourselves away in our little van for a few days.
Beautiful Northumberland - Dunstanborough Steads
Just the process of travelling up to Northumbria in early October provided valuable ponder time. I learned the importance of mulling over the story when we pootled off in our van for our ‘Big Trip’ in 2010. Drive time (husband driving) lets my brain tick over. It might look very similar to procrastination, but it’s not. Plot lines are being developed and sentences are rehearsed. Sometimes I even remember them and write them down.

Husband reached Scotland
By far the best thing about being in our van though, in terms of my writing, is the absence of an internet connection. Our ‘Big Trip’ was when I got most of my Tudor novel written, over many, many days with no internet, so I hoped that this week in October would help me develop the plot, and the perfect opportunity arose in the form of a whole day when my husband went for a bike ride (Beadnell Bay to Kelso), leaving me and the dog in the van with, importantly, no internet to distract me.

There were potential distractions, I’ll admit, but really, there are only so many dog walks on the beach I’m prepared to do in a day, so it was just me, the computer, my notebook, two packs of felt tip pens (fine and broad tips), coloured post-its, a Prittstick and some A3 paper. Have I mentioned that I’m a primary school teacher by profession? It might explain my approach to planning and my choice of tools.

Pommie shows no interest in my writing

I began by gluing 3 sheets of A3 together, and set out my plan based on the ‘Ten Scene Tool’ I picked up from a useful book – The Writer’s Little Helper by James V. Smith, Jr. This is where the post-its come in. One colour is for the most important ten scenes in my story – only I can’t quite get mine down to ten. Twenty-seven scene tool doesn’t sound as snappy, but the post-its are a lovely lime green. Alongside the plot post-its are another set for characters (bright blue), which I can add to as I decide on names, ages, looks, personality, personal journey – whatever. I also have (white) post-its for miscellaneous ideas to address, research to undertake when I eventually get back to the internet or questions to answer.

It took me the whole day, and many post-its bit the dust en route, but by the time the cyclist returned I’d cooked a delicious soup and sorted out the basic plot details. No internet meant no procrastination. I was very pleased with myself.

Last November, for NaNoWriMo, I found it so much easier to crack on with writing 2,000 words a day after I sorted out my plot, so my expectation on returning to South Cambridgeshire was that I would do the same. Have I? Not a chance. How many words have I written? A big, fat zero. Do I have excuses? I’ve had a nasty cough and cold, but it hasn’t stopped me sitting at the computer. I’ve been here, with the internet. I’ve found out why the dog might be biting her bottom (trust me, you don’t want the results of that search). I’ve found lists of books to attract reluctant readers. I now know how much vaguely Art Deco bathroom suites cost, and that a turmeric/honey mix is reputed to be very effective in easing a hacking cough (it does, but tastes completely disgusting, especially if you let it get cold).

You see, I’ve been procrastinating. Maybe procrastination is actually my first name. Procrastination Hale – it sound quite Amish, don’t you think?