Friday, June 15, 2012

Procrastination is like a virus

If I've learned one thing about writing over the years, it's this - the more you avoid it, the harder it is to get going. We avoid it for lots of reasons. The blank page is scary, not because it's blank, but because we place so many expectations upon what it should hold when we have written. We want our writing to shine right from the first draft. Heck, we want the first draft to be so darned good that we hardly have to touch it!

But understanding that first drafts can and usually do range from a bit rough right down to absolutely atrocious is the key. If you haven't written something, you have nothing to rewrite. If you haven't at least had a go at getting down that great idea, even if it looks like it curled up and died right in front of you, you'll never know if it's workable.

Today I went to my favorite cafe to write. It's a habit for me now, due to a retired husband in the house. First draft writing - I have to be alone, in my own headspace. The cafe is where I tackle first drafts. Some days the words come easily, especially if I'm working on my novel and can take up where I left off. What happens next has been bubbling away in the back of my head somewhere and it doesn't take much to get it out onto the page.

Today it was like trying to get a hundred splinters out of my brain. Painful, slow, tedious. I wanted to give up. I was working on a new chapter book, I had my character and a brief plot outline. It refused to come to life. It felt stodgy, forced, and incredibly boring. I kept thinking: what kid will ever want to read this rubbish?

But I kept going. I wrote two chapters. I came home feeling depressed. Why was I bothering? (Does this sound familiar?) But then I gave myself a mental slap. I have the beginning of a first draft, I have about 800 words I didn't have this morning, and I have hurdled that first barrier of "how to start". Nothing to complain about. Just 800 words ready for revision. The cure for the procrastination virus? Determination and perseverance. Oh, and good coffee!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

New books

Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments  Recently two friends of mine have had their books published, and I doubt they could be more different! But both are great reads. Gina Perry has been working on her book about Stanley Milgram and the shock machine experiments for quite a few years. It first appeared as a radio documentary, as she had found several people in the US who had taken part in the experiments and agreed to now be interviewed by her. Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments is a very confronting book, but a fascinating one.

Many people have heard of The Wave, which was the classroom experiment where blue-eyed and brown-eyed people were segregated and basically set against each other. There have been other similar social psychology experiments - most of which took place in the 50s and 60s - and it's only now that questions are being seriously asked about the long-term effects on the subjects. I've listened to Gina's documentary, which uses excerpts of the taped interviews, but somehow reading the book has a much greater effect. Perhaps it's the power of the imagination, but I've had a couple of nightmares about it! She also tracks her own journey through the research. As a former psychologist, she constantly questions the ethics of the experiments, the effects on the people she interviews, and whether Milgram told the whole truth about what he was doing. Certainly his journals indicate he had other motives, and he also kept information to himself that might have distorted or changed his findings. A very interesting book, even if you don't read much nonfiction. The Fine Colour of Rust The other book by a writer friend is a novel - The Fine Colour of Rust. I spent a lot of time laughing as I read Paddy (P.A.) O'Reilly's story. I loved the main character and her attitude to the world. How could you not love a mother who constantly imagines hilarious ways of getting rid of her kids, and yet clearly loves them and tries her best? Gunapin is an Australian country town where everything and everyone seems hopeless, and yet they're not. Loretta is a fighter and a realist - one of her many battles is to save the primary school, and it was a joy to see the local politician smothered in local "let's impress him" events which result in him being literally coated with meat and blood from the abattoir. You keep wanting Loretta to high-tail it out of the place and make a new life back in the city, and yet even she knows she is trapped there by lack of money. In the end, it's the people of Gunapin who make it a tolerable place to live, as it is with anywhere. The dry, almost black humour of this story is, you could say, very Australian, but I hope we're well past condemning "Australian novels" to the dusty back corner of the bookshop. This one deserves front and centre.