…but I never got round to it.
Luckily James Surowiecki in New Yorker did it for me here.
It’s a great article, highly recommended, and I like the central idea of multiple selves, some more short-termist than others and we need to negotiate between them. Certainly that is how it works for me.
Smug moment: I think I am relatively good about working with long deadlines, about seeing a copy-edited manuscript for instance and thinking, right I need to do about 50 pages a day of this to get it back to the publishers when they need it, rather than leaving it all to do on the night before. Equally I know the sort of daily word count I’ll need to do in writing mode to get the next novel finished on time. Now, I am terrible at emailing and calling people, or doing my accounts etc when I need to, but I do think that I am good at managing my time in my professional life. (Not that I feel that professional as I work. It’s difficult to think of yourself as professional when you do your best work in a huge wooly cardigan, but there you go.) Or at least I did.
Less smug moment: I’ve realised over the last couple of days I am procrastinating about the work my next book. Part of me wants very much to start setting down the ideas I have and get on with really shaping them into a plot, but each day when I sit down with that in mind I find myself discovering some fascinating, relevant text via google books and thinking, ‘well I’ll just read this one, then I’ll start on the plot.’
In Surowiecki’s article he quotes the example of General George McClellan who missed key opportunities in the American Civil War because of his chronic dithering. To quote Suroweicki:
He was perpetually imploring Lincoln for new weapons, and, in the words of one observer, “he felt he never had enough troops, well enough trained or equipped.” Lack of confidence, sometimes alternating with unrealistic dreams of heroic success, often leads to procrastination, and many studies suggest that procrastinators are self-handicappers: rather than risk failure, they prefer to create conditions that make success impossible, a reflex that of course creates a vicious cycle. McClellan was also given to excessive planning, as if only the ideal battle plan were worth acting on. Procrastinators often succumb to this sort of perfectionism.
That about sums it up. Ok, I’m not looking for more troops but while the plot is in my head rather than on paper, it is perfect. I know once I start looking at it in detail I’m going to find all the usual holes and problems, so I don’t want to. Also, I keep thinking I’m going to find some other bit of information, some fragment or anecdote on the next page of the next book that will open a door for me and make my next novel brilliant. So, I work my six hours or so a day on pure, open-ended research, most of which I’ll never make use of, and have only just realised to what degree that is procrastinating like the best of them.
What I obviously need to do is set down the skeleton of the plot so my research can become much more focussed and I can use the time I have as effectively as possible. Which I definitely will do… tomorrow.