I learned to write by procrastinating.
Well, ok, that’s not quite the truth. While I was learning to write, I was also learning to procrastinate. Correlation, not causation. The fact remains, though, I would put off writing until the last minute and then shove through the project as fast as I possibly could. There are benefits to this method of writing: My first drafts are generally clean. I do well with flash fiction, prompts, and deadlines. And I can finish a story or essay in the little chunks of spare time left lying around when my “real work” is done.
Paradigm shift: Writing is my real work.
I had this vision, when I left my nine-to-five. Okay, eight-to-six-no-lunch-break-and-probably-more-tonight-and-also-this-weekend. This vision that I’d be doing more of what Neil Gaiman described as “flying” and Stephen King called “looking through the hole in the paper.” After all, what could you do with ten more free hours in a day? Considering how much you get done in the two half-hours you’re able to squeeze in on the bus?
On the other hand, there are unread books. Unplayed video games. Friends on Facebook. Season 3 of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. At the time, these all seemed like what the Oregon Motorcycle Handbook describes as “surmountable obstacles.” Well, that and squirrels. Squirrels are also surmountable.
The first step to crossing an obstacle safely on a motorcycle is to identify the hazard early. Once you see the object in the road, slow as much as time and traffic allow. Try to line your motorcycle up at a 90° angle to prevent your front wheel from being jolted off course by the object. As you approach the hazard, rise off the motorcycle’s seat slightly by standing on the foot pegs. This allows the rider’s knees to absorb some of the shock. Grip the handgrips firmly before impact (without covering the clutch or the brake) to make sure you keep control of the bike. Just before the motorcycle’s front tire reaches the object, the rider should roll on the throttle slightly. This acceleration causes weight to shift toward the rear of the motorcycle, allowing the front wheel to cross the obstacle smoothly. Immediately after the front wheel crosses the object, the rider should roll off the throttle and let the rear wheel coast over it. If you stay on the throttle, the rear driven wheel can slip because of the bump or it can throw the object and potentially cause damage or injury. Make sure the motorcycle has time to stabilize before sitting back down on the motorcycle’s seat. Throughout the process try to avoid fixating on the object in the road. Continue to scan the road ahead watching for changes in traffic and for other potential hazards.
I thought I had identified my hazards early. And I was facing them head-on: I had blocked out parts of my day for “playtime” by setting up my housework schedule on a 45 minutes on/15 minutes off routine. I could use those 15 minutes for whatever I liked. That added up to several hours a day to goof off.
As I approached the hazard, I accelerated, ready to absorb the shock. I was used to having chat windows open during the workday, being at my computer more, and handling a heavy workload integrated with just enough playtime to keep me from going utterly mad. I was ready. The obstacle was surmountable.
But I forgot the critical last step. I was so fixated on the surmountable obstacles that I completely missed the wall in the middle of the road (to extend an already strained metaphor).
I have no idea how to write for an entire day. Or even four hours.
I know how to write for 20 minutes on the bus; how to go for a 15 minute run and return with a story mostly outlined. I know how to squeeze in a draft chapter while I wait for my turn in the shower or for the laundry to be done. I understand how to work around interruption, how to have the book open in one window and the project we’re having a conference call about in the other.
But this time to write, this blocked-out prepared chunk of day that sits between me and those completed stories, novels, poems… I have no idea how to surmount this. Suddenly the flying metaphor makes a lot more sense: how else would one pass this featureless object in the middle of the day? Easier, maybe, to pull up, to wait, to peer through the cracks and the chinks and holes, to see the bits of novel lurking on the other side.