Monday, November 21, 2005

Procrastination

When I was seventeen (thank you, Janis Ian) I went to college to study writing. It wasn't a very normal thing to do in those days (1979), before teaching creative writing became an industry. Writing was something studied only by bearded long-haired draft dodgers and women who wore floaty scarves. People suggested that teaching might be a more sensible career option (they were probably right - if I'd taken their advice, I'd be on my long service leave by now, unless the government's abolished it).
But at that time the now long-gone Prahran College offered one of the only professional writing courses, and I arrived to find myself one of very few people straight out of school. Almost everyone else was old (like 30, and some were even older!) and a surprising number had beards and long hair or wore floaty scarves.
I learned a lot there. I learned about reading, about Middle English for some reason I can't now recall, about grammar and symbolism; and I learned about drinking. All the people with long hair and beards got drunk at least once a week. After a few months I joined them. There was a pub on the corner called the Duke of Windsor, and we used to sit in the dark and drink tequila and place bets on which of us would win the Nobel Prize first. We all planned to be the next Hemingway (the drinking was part of perfecting the role). I was going to write my first novel probably the week after next.
Then I forgot. I think all the others did too, because I've never seen any of their novels, and none of them has won the Nobel Prize. Yet.
I never got around to starting a novel because I couldn't think of anything to write one about. I dropped out, did other stuff. Years passed. Decades. I kept writing other things, turned myself into a journalist, went back and finished the degree (except now I was the old one and everyone else was seventeen and scary). Stupidly decided to do my Masters as well. Still hadn't written a novel. Had no idea where to start. Read so many bad first novels that I thought really I'd rather not risk it. Snorted coffee out my nose when everyone around me suddenly started writing first novels, even those who'd never shown any inclination to write more than a shopping list.
But any writing teacher or those writing manuals will tell you just to start anywhere - don't worry if you don't have the whole plot in your head. I never thought that rule applied to me (like acting my age or behaving in a lady-like manner). When I write poems or essays or articles, I need to have the whole thing complete in my head, or I can't start.
But then one day, unemployed and traumatised, I sat down and wrote a scene about an ambulance driver in World War One. Then I kept going. Then somehow a few months later, I'd written a novel (it was pretty bad, but I'm rewriting it). Then I realised I could actually do it, and then there were pirates, and suddenly (three years later) there are three books, and more on the way, and there are more ideas than anybody could ever write.
So I'd better stop procrastinating and get on with it.

2 comments:

Blobnbrarb said...

We always knew that you could do anything you wanted to - we have enjoyed watching your development.

Kelly G said...

(That's my parents - they're biased)