Some writers reach the final chapters of a work in progress and get a huge burst of energy and enthusiasm. As they burn the midnight oil, their fingers become as one with the keyboard. Words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages explode onto the computer screen.
Even when I long to write THE END, have a clear idea of all facets of the conclusion, and possess the file cards to lead me there, I move like a geriatric sloth on a chilly day.
Why? Fear the project will fail? A desire to remain close to my characters and live in their fictional world longer? Poor work habits developed in childhood? All of the above?
I have no idea. But it happens every time I close in on the final 50 pages. I lounge in bed longer, read the entire paper, fill the bird feeder, let the dogs in and out and in again, add to the grocery list, etc. Once I’m in my office, I revise and rework, cut and paste, add and delete. When I hit a wall with that, I get right down to the process of wasting time. A LOT of time.
Recently—while wasting time avoiding work on the final chapters of No Substitute for Myth—I made a list of my top 10 ways to burn hours—all without leaving the room in which I write.
• Cleaning. This can range from washing the window to running the vacuum to dusting to dragging a Q-Tip between the keys to dislodge crumbs.
• Filing. Sticking receipts in their proper folders is mind-numbing, so I let them pile up for a day when I need time-wasting projects.
• Considering the merits of light bulbs. Should I try a different wattage, another brand, a new lamp? Research can stretch for hours.
• Chair adjustment. Should it be higher or lower? Do I need a cushion? A footstool? Better lumbar support? What about the armrests? More research is required.
• Rearranging. This covers the desktop, bookshelves, other furniture, contents of the drawers, items pinned to the bulletin board, and paintings on the wall. If I tackle documents and pictures saved in my computer, I can waste a day or more.
• Phone calls. Relatives? Old friends? New friends? Neighbors? Timeshare salesmen? Sure.
• Personal care. What better time to file and polish my nails than when I’m about to launch the final big scene? When I’m done applying lotion, I’ll use my reflection in the computer screen to pluck my eyebrows. Then it will be time to massage my neck, flex joints, and do a round of chair exercises before putting my head down on the desk for a restorative nap.
• Computer games. The sky’s the limit for this one, and that’s why I stick to Solitaire. Until recently I deluded myself into believing I was playing only a few games a day, but my new computer keeps track. Let’s just say that if I had a dollar for every game, I could buy a tropical island.
• Paperclip jewelry and accessories. Why stop at a necklace when I can make a belt or a tiara?
• Searching for quotes involving the wasting of time. Even Shakespeare had a few of those. And if I happen to be writing a blog about wasting time, I can call it research.
The added bonus of wasting time at or near my desk, no matter how I go about it, is that within seconds I can pop my work in progress onto the screen and appear to be doing some actual writing. This is useful if the other writer in the house passes by. “I didn’t realize you were still writing,” he’ll say. And then he’ll back out of the room and trek down the hallway to scrounge something for dinner, allowing me to play that black queen on the red king.
I’m always looking for some fresh ways to goof off, so please use the comment space to share. Remember, the time has to be wasted without leaving your workspace.
Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, No Substitute for Maturity, and, coming early this summer, No Substitute for Myth), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone) and other works. She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor. She’s now a substitute teacher in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking.