It was the same when I was making documentaries for radio and television. I would return from a reporting trip with hours of recorded interviews and a full notebook, wondering how the producer and I were going to put it all together to create a narrative structure. I knew I had done it before, dozens of times. But I could never remember exactly how. Maybe that was a good thing. It meant I was coming fresh to it every time.
After I’ve written the first sentence, the first chapter, even the first quarter of the book, I can always find lots to things to do instead of writing. I keep a riff by P J O’Rourke on my desk. It makes me laugh. It makes me feel less alone. Here it is:
“Usually, writers will do anything to avoid writing. For instance, the previous sentence was written at one o’clock this afternoon. It is now a quarter to four. I have spent the past two hours and forty-five minutes sorting my neckties by width, looking up the word ‘paisley’ in three dictionaries, attempting to find the town of that name on The New York Times Atlas of the World map of Scotland, sorting my reference books by width, trying to get the bookcase to stop wobbling by stuffing a matchbook cover under its corner, dialing the telephone number on the matchbook cover to see if I should take computer courses at night, looking at the computer ads in the newspaper and deciding to buy a computer because writing seems to be so difficult on my old Remington, reading an interesting article on sorghum farming in Uruguay that was in the newspaper next to the computer ads, cutting that and other interesting articles out of the newspaper, sorting – by width – all the interesting articles I’ve cut out of newspapers recently, fastening them neatly together with paper clips and making a very attractive paper clip necklace and bracelet set, which I will present to my girlfriend as soon as she comes home from the three-hour low-impact aerobic workout that I made her go to so I could have some time alone to write.”
I’ve been there. This morning, for example, I topped up the bird-feeder in the garden, started the sudoko in the newspaper, wrote a list of all the things I ought to do today (most of them tasks I put off doing yesterday), looked at a website on rucksacks (I’m doing a long-distance walk next month), decided to assemble and weigh all the things I will need to carry in my rucksack, decided to go out a buy a rucksack……..you get the picture.
What works best for me is to get up early – around 6.30am – sit down at my desk, and begin writing. I write the first thing that comes into my head. The idea is to get back into a routine.
Switching off that great distraction, the Internet, is a good idea as well.