Steve WetherellVisit Steve Wetherell‘s website.
Like many of you, I was disappointed by fantasy-writer/man-bear G.R.R Martin’s announcement that he wouldn’t meet his deadline for completing the next Game of Thrones book. Disappointed, but also unsurprised. The GoT universe is now so vast that I’m genuinely surprised Martin can fit it all in his head without incest and murder dribbling out of his nose. How does he even function in the real world with all that going on? Even those of us who aren’t writing enough books to build a house with can have trouble balancing our fictional worlds with our real ones.
This is why many indie writers lead sordid double lives, acting as regular employees and customers out in the real world, only to sneak home and orchestrate a world of murder, mystery and dinosaur sex. Would they accept us, those ordinary folk, if they knew that when they are talking to us about spreadsheets or groceries or what have you, we are imagining them phallating a robot? Probably not, but such is the secret burden of the writer.
Speaking of double lives, however, the writer’s most secretive betrayal is always with his mistress, Procrastination. Oh, we try to play it straight-- sitting at the dinner table with our bowtie’s done up tight, asking our WIPs how their day was and pretending to listen-- but, just a browser tab away, Procrastination awaits. She’s smoking a cigarette and strutting around in red lingerie and high heeled shoes. “I’m waiting for you,” she murmurs, “and I have all kinds of cat videos for us to watch.”
Every visit to Procrastination’s shady boudoir is a little death of your resolve. After promising yourself just five minutes, this time to tell her that it’s really over, you soon find yourself once more entwined in her limbs. “Look,” she gasps in your ear. “Look at this guy doing a backflip and landing on his face.”
You return to your home, your laptop waiting for you, the cursor on your WIP blinking at you with accusatory disappointment. “It won’t happen again, sweetie. I can change. I can be a better man.”
Go tell it to your whore, hisses your WIP.
Soon you find yourself out on the streets, hopping from dive bar to dive bar, exchanging back alley memes with sweaty handed strangers, wondering how the hell you get your life back.
There’s not a writer alive who doesn’t have some advice for avoiding procrastination. For my own part, I at least try and procrastinate usefully (by writing an article about procrastination, for example,) but even this is a slippery slope, because it’s easy to justify what counts as useful. Hey, I’m going to the bar, where I’ll probably talk to people— that’s life experience, right? This shit is research! So what if I wasted three hours on the Mad Max wiki— I’m reading, aren’t I? It all adds up! Hey, I’m sleeping! Perchance to dream! That’s where ideas come from, right? Now get the hell out of my bedroom.
Flimsy excuses, all. Your WIP awaits, and every second you are not appeasing it is a second lost forever.
I often wonder if any other calling is the same?
Creative writing is a very unique job, in that there is no filler work (at least until you get to the copy edit stage). It’s not like a regular job, where there’s a lot of T crossing and I dotting to eat up the time. It’s not like other artistic pursuits, where you can potter around playing your scales and other peoples songs until the writing takes you. A novel writer has to come up with something new and funny and exciting and sexy all while sticking to a plot that people will want to follow. There’s no coasting when you’re writing an original work. Creating something from your head demands everything that you are…
At least, that’s what we believe a writer should be.
Which brings me back to G.R.R Martin and his missed deadline and subsequent apology. As a writer I don’t want him to rush, and I don’t want him to pull some James Patterson bullshit and factory crap out a novel every six minutes. I don’t think that’s how we want to envision the noble writer. We want to believe novel writing to be the last bastion of the true creative, whether it is or not. Also, though, Martin is a man (and possibly half bear) and he can’t be expected to give up his life to chain himself eternally to a desk in a fate that… come to think of it… he’d probably be happy to inflict on one of his characters.
That’s why I believe G.R.R. Martin shouldn’t apologise for refusing to rush his art. Not to his publishers, not to HBO, and not even to his fans. His relationship with his WIP is his business, and a writer should only have one mistress.