by Rahnia Collins
She’s baaacckk! Yes, the literary vampire Procrastination has oozed her way back into my life. And like one of those intelligent killer robots from The Incredibles she has learnt to anticipate all my coolest moves. So now she is subtler than ever. She’s come at me this time through the medium of something I simply can’t resist, books. My favourite online bookshop is having a sale and no, it’s not the Evil Empire* it’s the Australian version of The Book Depository. They have these No Shipping charge offers which pop up in my Inbox about once a month, which mean that I can buy even more books (can anyone say book addict?). You’ll have to believe me, because you can’t see it, but when someone mentions new books I get this slightly crazed look in my eye. My husband (poor, long-suffering man that he is) has become very wary of that look because he knows the causal connection between it and our dwindling bank balance.
Anyway, Procrastination, that relentless anti-muse, has been exploiting one of my great weaknesses, my genre kryptonite, the varied and wonderful world of books about writing (henceforth referred to in this post as, BAW). Books on how to manage the odd, magic thing that we call creative writing; I love them, I devour them, I hoard them. I have an entire shelf of my bookcases devoted to BAW. It’s kind of a condition and I should probably find myself some kind of 12 step-type support group to help me curb it, ‘My name is Rahnia and it’s been three months since my last BAW purchase’ (I’m not making light of 12 step programs here by the way). To give you a recent example of my issue, I was just finishing Elizabeth George’s Write Away (British police procedurals are another great weakness of mine) when I first read one of Chris’s posts about morning writing and Dorothea Brande. So naturally I went online and bought Becoming a Writer.
[Chris's note: I added the links above.]
And the problem with this is????? Well nothing…exactly. Both of these, in different ways and for different aspects of the writing life are excellent. Both books have helped me out enormously over the last few months, Dorothea pulled me right out of the huge Slough of Writer’s Block Despond that I’d been mired in for over a year. Elizabeth gave me some awesome advice on writing characters with distinct, individual voices. But there is peril here. Peril that my old nemesis is manipulating. I get so easily caught up in the awesomeness of the BAW, and the buzz that I get from reading them, that before long I find myself distracted from the actual writing. Things might be different if I could spend all day in a nifty writing studio, reading, reflecting as well as writing, without the distractions of such petty annoyances as paying jobs, children and Mt Washmore.
But I live in the real world. It was tempting to read and reread Becoming a Writer without putting the exercises into practice, because that takes, you know, effort (Do you know how early my middle daughter wakes up in the morning? Getting up before her to write takes serious commitment). My BAW addiction has completely played into Procrastination’s hands. (As a slightly intriguing side note, for some reason in my head Procrastination looks like Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid, but with less tentacles.) She whispers gently in my ear, ‘But it’s helping your writing, remember, to write you must also read.’ So the number one peril of BAW, for me, is that they feed Procrastination and she pops back up in my life deluding me into thinking that I’m not really procrastinating. Damn, she’s a clever bitch!
On the plus side, BAW are way cheaper than a Creative Writing degree or even the various (and generally excellent) courses I’ve attended through my local organisation, the Queensland Writer’s Centre. If you are cash-strapped $15 or so gets you the expertise of a writer like Stephen King, or of a teacher like Brian Kiteley. They can also be specifically chosen to suit your own needs, my current WIP is a mystery novel, hence Elizabeth George. I generally hate self-help books with the fire of a thousand suns but I adore BAW and find them inspirational reading. A BAW can kickstart my love of writing when I falter, as Becoming a Writer did. However, and here’s the kicker, this is where Procrastination gets her beautifully manicured, sea-witch hands on me. Sometimes they are just an excuse not to do the hard stuff like write that passage of dialogue that is the next bit in my WIP. I hate writing dialogue with the power of a hundred thousand suns – so, damn, much! – probably enough to make it a whole blog topic for another day. When I am hating on dialogue I can pick up one of those tantalising tomes and read about how I should be executing my dialogue. ‘But you need help with it, sweetie,’ Procrastination murmurs, and I read on. The BAW can thus become an end in themselves, rather than a means to that end, which is to finish the current WIP before I’m seventy.
So what exactly is it that I’m saying about BAW? Do I think they are useful or a giant time-sucker? I think that, like most stuff, they are excellent in moderation, but if Procrastination tells you that you should be reading them, be wary. Be really, damn wary! Below are a couple of honourable mentions. I’ve tried to include less well-known books and ones that I’ve found of practical use (I don’t benefit in any way by suggesting these titles to you).
The 3AM Epiphany by Brian Kiteley. Practical, wacky and enjoyable. It is excellent if you find yourself stalled mid-WIP. My advice is to read it with your journal, a pen and a stack of post-it notes to hand.
A Novel in a Year by Louise Doughty. Very practical exercises to generate a story idea and produce enough content to complete a novel. The first activity – “The day after my eighth birthday,” never fails to inspire even the most unenthusiastic of Year 8 students.
Happy reading, but even happier writing and I’d love to hear what form your Procrastination takes, drop a quick description into the comments.
Rahnia Collins is an English teacher by profession, a writer by aspiration and a reader by addiction. She wishes there was some sort of grant that would fund her reading habit. Her other addictions are tea and cats. If her husband had not set a strict two cat limit she would already be a crazy cat lady.
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