Friday, 19 June 2009

Thoughts on a writer's life: the art of procrastination

When my life is crammed full to bursting, and I feel as though I've got no time to sleep, or even to breathe, all I want to do is press pause. To slip away on my own and lose myself in the flow of writing.

After a manic couple of weeks in London on work experience, I came back to Falmouth. There's been a lot going on here too: saying goodbye to people leaving for the summer, course-related seminars and the inevitable random nights out that seem to just happen when you're living in a small town.

When I haven't written for a while, I find myself getting edgy. Ideas crowd my mind, keeping me awake at night or waking me up at 3am with the sudden urge to put pen to paper. I get frustrated with anything, and everything that's preventing me from writing.

But when I finally have the time I crave, I sometimes I find it hard to get started again. Procrastination takes over. Lately, this seems to be in the form of research: it feels like work, in reality, it's little different from all the other things I find to do that aren't actually writing.

I've met many other writers, including a number of successful published authors who admit that sometimes, they'll do almost anything except write.

Why, when it's the thing that we love the most, do we procrastinate?

But I've also heard that procrastination is an essential part of the writing process. While you're making the tenth cup of tea that day or checking your emails, your subconscious is actually hard at work, developing ideas, working through the problems with your plot, letting your characters develop. When you finally sit down to write, it seems as though the words flow as if channeled by divine inspiration.

However, I'm also aware that time marches on. The summer is fleeting: I have to make the most of my writing time now, because come the autumn, I know I'll be working.

I'll get back to work in a minute. Once I've checked my emails.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Old friends: the joy of rediscovery

Re-reading a book that you have loved is a little like meeting up with an old friend you haven't seen for some time.

Over time, we all change, and the way we relate to other people and things changes to reflect this. It's the same with books. I've just finished rereading The English Patient, which I last read when I was in my mid-teens. I loved the novel and the film, although the film was quite different from the book, as is often the case. Minghella managed to capture the essence of the novel: the beauty of Ondaatje's writing was translated into stunning cinematography.

Reading The English Patient, what struck me was the craft that went into the writing of it. I found myself reading much more slowly than normal, savoring the words to the point where I would read passages aloud to listen to the rhythm of the words. It's exquisite.

The way Ondaatje weaves the four narratives together, slipping between the past and the present is impressive. I found myself having to read passages more than once to appreciate the the technique; I'd got too caught up in the story to notice how they'd been constructed. The prose is sparse but achingly beautiful in places. Not a single word is wasted.

I love The English Patient now more than I did when I first read it at 17 because appreciate the work that has gone into it. The precision of the sentences, the scenes, the character development and the research that went into writing a novel set at the end of the Second World War.

Welcome back, old friend.