Friday, 16 February 2007

The perils of being a writer

All in all, it has been a pretty good week. I have had about five nice e-mails on the books, a small cheque from a publisher and mentions from a couple of people that, although they don't comment, they do read this blog. I also published a long and, I hope, very thoughtful article on ‘speculative faith’ on the (wait for it) Speculative Faith website: although some of the themes will be familiar to my readers here, it is all new material. What else? I've got my Macbook up and running with Microsoft Word for Windows using the fun Parallels software. I even had some vaguely enjoyable teaching. But– and here’s the rub – I haven't got the writing done that I would have liked and the reason is simply because I'm a writer.

Let me explain that paradox. By dint of working late and hard during the week I had managed to make Thursday night free for writing on the Infinite Day. However Thursday afternoon, one of my students asked me whether I had a glossary of geological terms I could give him. It was a single sentence request. I thought about it and decided that he and the other students probably deserved something like that as there are no decent textbooks at our level. Anyway, I thought, I can pull one off the Web, they are bound to exist.

So after supper, I set to work to find this glossary on the web and print it. Assuredly, I told myself, a half hour task. I soon found a good glossary pitched at the right level with most of the terms I wanted from a United States organisation with no copyright attached. I downloaded it and pasted into Word. Now at that point I should simply have printed it and got on with my book.

But as I scanned my eyes over the definitions the writer in me took over. ‘Hang on’, I thought, ‘that's not the British spelling’. Then, a moment later, ‘Wait, if these words are included, why don't we also include these others?’ Then after a few more minutes I realised that the style was frequently what I call ‘clunky’; so I set to work tidying the worse paragraphs. ‘Hey’ I said, ‘the kids know I'm a writer and with my name attached, I don't think I can let anything substandard go’. Then I realised that some of the definitions were far more thorough than others and so I thickened up a few of the thinner ones. So, you can imagine what happened. I finally got it done by ten o'clock and a very fine booklet resulted. But I didn't get to work on the book.

What was going on here? I think two things. One was professional pride on a matter where frankly it didn't really matter. The other was that I had found a legitimate displacement activity to stop me from writing. Now here, I don't want you to get any high-flown psychological fantasies about me ‘not wishing to write’. Let's be blunt: writing is hard work and after a long day at work, I preferred something else. Those who are outside the writing business consider writing to be easy and there are times in my writing when it as easy as going downhill on bike. But then there are also times when it's like going uphill into wind on a bike. It hurts and it takes effort. And when faced with that almost anything will seem to be attractive. So if you know a writer then pray for them that their words will come easily. Because sometimes almost anything is preferable to writing: even a geological glossary.