Writing Is An Infinite Task

Writing Is An Infinite Task

I hate tidying my room. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m a criminally untidy person. I mean, I’ll keep paperclips in different mini drawers according to what colour they are, but my floor will still be covered in papers, books that don’t belong to me, and random socks that have been odd for four years.

So when I do eventually get around to tidying, it is a hardcore job.

Stage One: The Easy Part

Stage one is where I pick up all the clothes and figure out what to do with them. They’re either dirty (so they go in the wash), clean (so they go in the wardrobe), or were once clean but are now so dusty from being on my floor that they need to go in the wash anyway (so they go in the wash), and once I’ve sorted that out, my floor is considerable tidier. Stage one is also when I grab all the books lying around them and pile them up somewhere, unless there’s a space on the shelf, in which case I put them there. Spoiler: there’s never a space.

Stage Two: Procrastination

Now that the easy stuff is done, I get distracted. Maybe there’s no space on the bookshelf — why don’t I reorganise it so that there is? Maybe picking up clothes uncovered a bunch of photographs I took three years ago — why don’t I stick those on the wall above my desk so that I’ve got something to look at while I’m writing?

BsNyBkxCcAAooolBut the best bit is finding a box of glow-in-the-dark stars and dinosaurs and sticking them all around my room because I am legally old enough to vote and I don’t see how that’s incompatible with a glowing stegosaurus that I can see from my bed when I can’t sleep, to be perfectly honest. I also accidentally made the Plough with the stars, and found myself giggling about the serendipity of an unintentional constellation when I should have been sleeping.

I am a legal adult. Let that sink in.

Stage Three: Recycling

Part of the first draft of the last Death and Fairies book, from August 2011.
Part of the first draft of the last Death and Fairies book, from August 2011.

There are always papers. Always. One of the most time-consuming tasks is figuring out which of these scraps of illegible handwriting is a poem, and what’s the remainder of some notes from school last year, and then filing or recycling them as appropriate. It’s also time consuming because I get distracted reading the papers I find, especially when they’re fiction. Sometimes I find half-decent poems, or first drafts of novels. I keep them all in a box of handwritten stuff, which also houses my old journals and other fun notebooks.

I can tell how excited I was by a scene just by how bad my handwriting has become. This, for example, was a fight scene. My handwriting deteriorated to that of a ten-year-old.

Stage Four: Rubbish

Underneath the papers, I find the rubbish. Wrappers of throat sweets. Tags from clothing. Empty packets for painkillers. I can dump all those in the bin and no problem, it’s done.

Stage Five: Supreme Junk Hoarder

This is the hardest stage, and one of the last ones. There’s always junk. Bits and pieces that I don’t know what to do with — that have lived on my floor for months simply because I’ve got nowhere else to put them. Sometimes, I just put them all in shoeboxes, but two years later when I’m tidying, I feel the need to sort the shoebox. It’s full of badges from my Christian rock phase. (A picture of Jesus with the slogan “rebel with a cause!” or a gothic font that just says “God rocks!”) I hastily put the badges back in the shoebox and close it.

But the shoebox must be emptied and so I tidy everything else — sort out the rubbish, make my bed, organise the box of school papers that I’m keeping, put my spare camera tripod in the top cupboard because I don’t vlog nearly often enough to need two, alphabetisise a bookshelf or two, make a cup of tea, choose a new tidying playlist …

… and then do some writing.

“I’ll finish tidying tomorrow,” I say, despite the fact that I’ve been working on this for two weeks, inconsistently, because I’m so good at putting it off.

The obvious response is, of course, “Why not finish tidying now, sort your desk out, and do the writing tomorrow?” But that doesn’t actually work, and I’ve figured out a way of justifying this analysis.

To be fair, the bookshelf did look like THIS before, which is a bit shameful.
To be fair, the bookshelf I reorganised did look like THIS before, which is a bit shameful.

Tidying is a finite task. Once it’s done, it’s done, so if I put it off until tomorrow, all that’s going to happen is that it’s going to get done a day later. With me so far? If I put it off, it doesn’t get bigger, there isn’t more to do, unless somebody brings a pile of my stuff upstairs and dumps it in the middle of my floor.

But writing is infinite or, at least, a lot bigger. If I leave writing for today, all that will happen is that I’ll get less writing done. At the moment, I’m averaging around 2.5k each day, though it fluctuates depending on how ill I feel or how many ballet rehearsals I’ve got. If I don’t write on Thursday, but I have no tidying left to do on Friday, then to make up for it I would need to write 5k.

And that’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely. I haven’t planned this novel in enough detail to find it easy to write 5k in a day. My hands aren’t really up to it, and I’m probably putting them through more than they’re capable of by typing half that at high speed, but I’ve had a terrible sore throat all week, so I’m not going to dictate. So all that’s happened is that I’ve lost a day of writing.

For me, when I’m in the midst of a novel, the mantra write every day is crucial. And I’m not going to beat myself up if I miss a day because I know it’s not always possible: tomorrow, for example, I’ve got a ballet class in the morning, then two performance in the afternoon. I won’t have a moment to work on my novel. But because it’s necessary to split up how much I write, and because 2.5k every day is more manageable than 5k every other day, I have to figure out which tasks in my life are finite.

It’s not necessarily prioritising: it’s analysing. Both are still going to get done, eventually, and all I’ve done is work out how to fit them around each other.

Also, I really, really hate tidying, so writing makes a nice change.

And now it looks like this, which I think is an improvement.
And now it looks like this, which I think is an improvement.

2 thoughts on “Writing Is An Infinite Task

  1. If I’m drafting I HAVE to write everyday too. Usually around 5K a day, though, hey…laziness is attractive and we like to hang out together watching tv shows online. Cleaning is never a huge issue for me, because I’ve moved waaay too much in my life. I literally do no own stuff. If the apocalypse hit, I could easily leave the house with just my laptop.

    1. I’ve lived in the same house for nearly eighteen years, the same room for six years… I’ve accumulated a lot of books. And junk. Packing for uni is gonna be fun.

      I used to write more at a 5k-a-day speed — well, actually, I went through a period of being 10k-or-bust, and usually averaged around 7k or 8k on a slow day. But then hands. And I’ve not been feeling up to dictation. So it’s averaging around 2.5k. That said, I’ve done 2.2k already today, and after tidying and my ballet rehearsal, I’m going to do more this evening, so I might make a higher total today.

      (I probably hit 5k if I include blog posts — for example, the other day I’d written 4 posts by 10:30am, for three separate blogs. Yay.)

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