Those of you who are regular followers of ‘Life in Laytonia’ are aware of my predilection for any distraction from whatever I’m working on. I have written about it many times.
‘Predilection’? I’m not sure that’s the right word. Fondness, maybe? Liking? Penchant? No, too forgiving, far too weak.
Weakness. That’s it!
Weakness. Flaw. Defect. Deficiency. These are more appropriate words to describe my shortcomings when it comes to getting down to the task at hand.
‘Shortcomings’ – perfect!
So far this morning, I have written 96 words – 109 if you include “so far this morning, I have written 96 words” and I am far too embarrassed to say how long that has taken me. All the above is a perfect example of how I succumb to any distraction.
Rather than apply myself to this week’s musing I have, by way of diversion, spent an inordinate amount of valuable writing time leafing through Roget’s Thesaurus looking up more a suitable word for ‘predilection’.
Do you know, I’ve always got my head in my Roget’s Thesaurus and I haven’t a clue who ‘Roget’ was. I’ve never googled him.
Peter Mark Roget was a British physician, lexicographer and founding secretary of The Portico Library. He is best known for publishing, in 1852, the Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, a classified collection of related words.
I’ve always thought he was French. Stupid. Why would a Frenchman write a book of English Words and Phrases? And he was a doctor? You live and learn. (Actually, he had Swiss parents, so I’ve learned a little more.)
Okay. That’s enough procrastination. Back to work.
‘Back to work’! Hardly. I haven’t done a bloody stroke. I’ll rephrase:
That’s enough procrastination – to work!
As I was saying, those of you who are regular followers of ‘Life in Laytonia’ are aware of my predilection for any distraction from the work in hand. I have written about it many times. Probably too many times.
Hmm…I’ve never heard of the ‘The Portico Library’. Must check it out.
The Portico Library, The Portico or Portico Library and Gallery on Mosley Street, Manchester, is an independent subscription library designed in the Greek Revival style by Thomas Harrison of Chester and built between 1802 and 1806.
You see. I will use any delaying tactic to put off the start of another of day’s writing.
I will load the dishwasher, unload the dishwasher, vacuum the kitchen. Hoover the whole house in an effort to steal more (self-rationalised) guilt-free minutes. I frequently think it must be terrific being married to a reluctant writer.
Not only do all these helpful chores possibly win me a few brownie points from Mrs. L. more importantly, they serve as yet a further excuse to avoid trudging up to the top of the house and switching on the computer.
Eventually, having reached the end of Avoidance Avenue, I cannot postpone the evil moment any longer. Other than make a (4th) cup of tea. That’s not another delaying tactic, it’s an essential tool for any writer. That or a Scotch and thank the Lord…
So, with mug of Tetley’s in hand, I leave the kitchen.
Hang on – is that the washing machine beeping? I might as well go back and hang up the laundry before I head off…
See what I mean?
Finally, I do get round to going upstairs. I am on my way.
Passing the hall to our bedroom, I decide I must go and make our bed. A few more minutes are neither here nor there.
Damn – Moya’s made it!
Miserably, I trudge up to my to my dungeon to face the day…
You might be forgiven for thinking that once I start, it’s all systems go; the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign goes up on the door, the answer-machine is switched on, the mobile is switched off and I write like the clappers.
Not a bit of it. Interruptions are always welcome. If it weren’t for Covid, I’d offer the Amazon driver a cup of tea. I could chat to the postman for hours. ‘Ooh, that window looks dirty,’ I think to myself on the way back upstairs. ‘I’ll just give it a quick clean…’
Years ago, with dare I say too many writing commissions, my acting career, like Walt Disney, was cryogenically frozen – so rumour has it. Walt Disney that is, not my frozen career.
I was flitting between BBC Television Centre writing Don’t Wait Up starring Nigel Havers & Tony Britton and Thames Television in Teddington where I was writing Executive Stress starring Penelope Keith. Thames Television! That shows how many years ago it was.
I would spend hours, days – maybe a week – sharpening pencils and staring at blank sheets of paper. These were the days when computers were called word processors and they were definitely not for me. I was a Luddite.
I would be sitting at the desk I’m sitting at now, staring out of the same window when my mother would telephone. I had better add ‘my Viennese mother’ if you are to make sense of the spelling below:
‘Georgie darlink, be an angel, vud you, and take me down to King’s Cross…’
‘Georgie darlink, Daddy und ich are out of milch. Vud you be an angel and pick up a few sinks für uns. I’ll make a list…’
‘Georgie darlink, you’re doing nuzzink. Vud you be an angel and run me to za hairdresser, bitte…’
I would feebly suggest that she wouldn’t dream of calling X, Y or Z who worked in offices to ask them for a lift to the station/the hairdressers/shopping.
‘Of course not, darlink. Zey are vorkink!’
‘But mummy – yes, being mid-Europeans, all us kids called our mum & dad ‘mummy & daddy- – But mummy, this is my office. I’m working!’
‘Sorry, darlink, I can’t hear you. Za ‘phone has gone ein bischen cracklink.’
My dear much-missed late mother had selective hearing.
But it’s an occupational hazard of being a writer. That’s how it looks to a third party. You’re staring out of the window. You’re doodling on scrap paper. You’re making the odd telephone call. Several telephone calls! You’re surfing the internet. You’re wandering round the house making incessant cups of comfort-drinking tea. The most creative work in days can be an email or several.
To all intents and purposes, you are doing nothing.
Many years ago, Dick Clement, who with Ian La Fresnais have been successfully writing together for a phenomenal 60 years, told me this story.
He and Ian were having one of those unproductive staring into space, staring out of the window, staring at each other days. It was not going well.
The silence was broken by Dick’s then wife, who popped her head round the door:
‘Dick, while you’re sitting there doing nothing, would you put the bins out?’
I have arrived at the point in this week’s proceedings where I have to make a confession.
I can’t speak for other writers but all the procrastinatory routines and methods of evasion detailed above are, for me, part of the writing process.
Whether I’m stacking a dishwasher, hanging up laundry, vacuuming the kitchen, staring out of the window or chatting to the postman, I am not wasting writing time. Something is always – if I can be facetious enough to use a word normally associated with childbirth – gestating.
I remember some years ago I had spent 2 or 3 confidence-sapping days struggling with a storyline. I knew that I had something but I just couldn’t get it to hang together.
One evening, I miserably shut up shop and went off to play tennis. (I always worked office hours, eureka moments aren’t necessarily punctual, they can turn up at any time, frequently at the end of the day.)
I can’t remember how well or badly I played or whether I won or lost but my mind can’t have been on the tennis.
By the end of the game, my storyline had clicked into place. I knew the script would work and I might not be hanging up the washing next day.
So it was with my mum. Whether it was running her to the station or giving her a lift to the hairdresser or doing her shopping, I would invariably go back to my desk afterwards and see things more clearly.
So as I sit here ‘working’, wondering what the hell I’m going to write this week, I would give anything for the ‘phone to ring and hear just once more:
‘Georgie darlink, vud you be an angel und pick up my sinks from za dry-cleaner…?
A post Lockdown/Covid telephone call – hopefully soon:
George: (into ‘phone) Hello…
Younger daughter: Hi dad, are you busy?
George: (staring at a blank screen) Not especially.
Younger daughter: I was just wondering, if you’re free, could you pick up the twins from nursery? If you’re busy, don’t worry.
George: No, I’m not doing anything. Love to…