Hello. My name’s Jim, I’m a writer, and I’m easily distracted.
Phew. Feels good to get it out there. Although – I’m guessing it’s not too much of a shock. I can’t imagine you choked on your flat white when you read that (Digression #1: Why am I so obsessed with flat whites? Is it because I fundamentally don’t know what they are?).
(Digression #2: I suspect there’ll be a lot more digressions in this post, so it might be quicker, cleaner and probably kinder just to give them a letter. So this is actually D#2).
Of course, the cure for a digressive personality is just to get the hell on with it. (Is digressive a word? I’ll have to look it up….. yes, it is. Adjective // characterized by digression; tending to depart from the subject. And no, that wasn’t a digression, that was a pause for research. I’m not about to start labeling them. I’d be here all day). And I suppose it’s in that infinitesimal gap between The Digression and The Getting The Hell On With It that all the pain resides.
Good news is, I’m cured. For the last three days I’ve managed to be disciplined. Up early / dog walk / 1000 words on the novel. Only then have I allowed myself to think about Tweeting, or writing a poem, or a blog post. And that feels great. Because as I’ve learned in the past, 1000 words isn’t so hard to achieve, and soon stacks up in a satisfying way. The editing phase will almost certainly be a source of pain, too, but it’s cleaner and more virtuous. You’ve overcome the tyranny of the blank screen. You’ve established the characters, the story, The Big Idea. You’ve got material to shape (scalpel, chainsaw, whatever). So an altogether more constructive phase, then – although, having said that, half of it usually ends up on the cutting room floor, and I weep for the days of work it represents.
Sometimes you can salvage a short story from the sweepings, or worst case scenario, a poem about a funny-looking dog.
(D#3: I made that up about the funny-looking dog. I don’t think I’ve ever edited something like that out of one of my books. Why would I? It almost guarantees a sale. However, there was a funny-looking dog over the woods this morning. A small, light brown terrier with glowing eyes, immaculate despite all the mud. How? Thinking back on it, it was very floaty, so it may actually have been a ghost. There’s a shrine to a dog tied round one of the trees near the stream. It’s probably him.)
(D#4: There aren’t that many stories about ghostly animals. Is that a religious thing? I just had to Google it, and found this on a Catholic website:
Animals and plants can’t do anything which transcends the limitations of matter. Although some animals seem clever, they don’t actually possess conceptional intelligence. They can’t, for instance, conceive of the abstract notion of justice.
Well. They’ve never seen Lola use the power of her mind to literally force me into giving her a duck stick. I mean – she’s positively Obi-Wan Kenola. Which sounds more like a delicious Italian pastry than a Jedi knight.)
(D#5: Sorry. That last digression had another digression tagged on the end, which is unnecessarily complicated, but I can’t help it – it’s the nature of the beast. I suppose technically speaking I should have listed it as a D#4+1 – but that sounds too much like coding, and I can hear you sighing from here, so – moving on).
Anyway – I only sat down to write about something I saw in Sainsbury’s today.
(D#6+1, possibly 2: I knew someone had to go to Sainsbury’s today, and I didn’t mind. So long as I got the dog walk out of the way [tick], wrote my 1000 words [tick], Tweeted some pics [tick] took Kath to the station and had lunch with the girls [tick][tick], I’d be fine to do the supermarket run. The other thing was I thought it might help me straighten out a few plot points. I could mull over the predicament the main character was in, and figure out what he’d do next. Chores are supposed to be good for that. Like hoovering, or ironing. So I can only assume that Ernest Hemingway must’ve been some kind of domestic goddess.)
The thing was, I didn’t get any thinking done in Sainsbury’s – at least, not anything related to the novel. The thing that gripped me was: Who is that guy? and Is he real?
Background information: I think today was OAP day. Just guessing. It felt as if there’d been some kind of public broadcast on the radio, and everyone over seventy had shuffled en masse to Sainsbury’s. Negotiating the trolley through the aisles was like paddling a canoe round a slalom. (D#7: My search history today would look good – Do dogs make ghosts? Obi-Wan Kenobi & canoe slalom).
But what really freaked me out was this guy I kept coming across. He was quite extraordinary-looking, like a giant, gloomy frog in tweeds and brogues, clutching on to the handle of his trolley and standing there, utterly motionless. I half-expected him to fill his trolley by snapping his tongue out and whipping the cans off the shelves. And there he was in Dairy. And again, in Eggs. And there he was, completely still, in Crisps and Snacks, his head pointing up, his wide mouth curving down, waiting. The only thing I could think was that a team of model-makers were sniggering and carrying him from point to point whenever I passed. (D#8: Dangerous territory, I know, to think that the world is being manipulated just to make you feel uneasy. But honestly – is it?)
So I didn’t get any thinking done about that tricky plot point. And no doubt when I sit down to write my next 1000 words, I’ll end up with my hands as frozen on the keyboard as that man’s hands on his trolley in Sainsbury’s. But then – I bet he’s a writer. Maybe that’s how it’s done. You stand there thinking just as hard and as long as you need to, and everyone simply has to reach round you for their bananas.
Which is probably why he’s such a successful writer, and can afford such fancy clothes.
But I digress.