Even after I’d slapped the third coat of paint on the walls and arranged the furniture, there was still much to do to make the new study into a proper literary hothouse.
There was the labelling of all the electric plugs, shamefully avoided for years, now critical after the purchase of the wireless printer and charmingly retro digital radio. For sanity’s sake, the amorphous mass of bumf in the middle drawer of the filing cabinet required urgent segregation into 30 carefully-annotated hanging folders. The CDs, resplendent in their new floor-to-ceiling rack, cried out to be alphabetically sorted. Then, by the time I reached B for Beach Boys, I thought, “But what if I subsequently want to re-sort them by genre, release date or gaudiness of sleeve design?” It was a no-brainer. Only an anally retentive Excel spreadsheet could fix this.
When I finally sat down at my desk, I still had some preliminaries to address before uncorking the expected torrent of quirky observational humour. There was research to do, initially in the areas of the Web devoted to satire, sedition, Scotland, sovereignty and separation, but subsequently tilting noticeably towards “Wow! Morons recklessly trapping body parts in everyday household objects!”
Then, as a howling squall darkened the skies - typical Scottish winter, said the Met Office - I glimpsed my reflection in the window and was horrified to find Uncle Albert of Only Fools And Horses looking back. So I trimmed my beard. Result asymmetrical. Did it again. And again. Five bleedin’ times. Electric trimmer now full of hairs. Poked at it with a fiddly brush. Tapped it against the basin. Blew at it through a straw. Consumed half of toilet roll wiping around sink. Pullover also covered in fuzz. Shook it frantically. Bunged it in wash. Hoovered entire surrounding area.
I think I may have a bit of a problem with procrastination.
This is a shocking admission for a self-styled creative person to make. Isn’t writing my very raison d’être, the pursuit for which I’ll forsake food, companionship and personal hygiene, the goal for which I’ll crawl through a lake of fire fuelled by the remains of my dead ancestors? This attitude wouldn’t get me on reality TV, where an empty declaration that you’re “passionate” and “on a journey” is the minimum you need simply to get through the initial interview with a bored pimply intern.
Fortunately, I have a number of illustrious predecessors to cite in my defence. You’d have to acquire super-powers to be more creative than Leonardo da Vinci, yet the poor bloke hardly got a thing completed. With creditors and customers banging in frustration at his door, he dithered for 16 years over the Mona Lisa. No wonder she looks so bored. Mind you, at least he filled his “thinking” time producing visionary doodles of helicopters and calculators, which rather knocks the socks off my own unconscious scribbles. (Can he not, even once, have accidentally drawn a willy and turned it into an arrow, like the rest of us? What, is that just me?)
The world of words also has its share of time-fritterers. J.D. Salinger avoided the stress of following a masterpiece by the simple strategy of publishing nothing at all for the last 35 years of his life. After his death three unpublished stories were discovered, one of them a prequel to The Catcher In The Rye, which his will stipulated couldn’t be published until 2060. Procrastination even after you’re dead: that’s awesome!
Proust had the bright idea (which, of course, I’ve just nicked) of actually writing about procrastination. However, it’s pretty ironic, bordering on hypocritical, that he then efficiently cranked out seven volumes comprising 3,200 pages, even if he didn’t quiiiiiiiiite finish revising and proofreading the last three. His commitment to the task was such that latterly he survived on coffee and croissants, despite opulent references to food in his best-known passages. It must have felt like writing 50 Shades Of Grey after moving to a monastery. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
Kafka squared a job in insurance and devotion to family with his creative ball-and-chain by pulling late-nighters at his writing desk. What if he woke up the next morning feeling absolutely dreadful? No problem, he’d just change a few details and stick it in a story somewhere. Fall asleep on the job and get hauled over the coals by the early 20th century forerunner of Human Resources? Merely a spur for tales of nightmarish, unfathomable bureaucracy. Procrastination leading to inspiration.
In recent years, the author most celebrated for his tendency to faff about is Douglas Adams, whose best known statement on the subject is “I love deadlines – I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” To kick-start his creative juices, his editors are reputed to have resorted to increasingly desperate stratagems, culminating in three weeks’ virtual house arrest in a hotel suite. Blimey, banging up a master procrastinator in a pleasant room with a view, comfortable bed, TV and minibar. With brains like that in charge, no wonder the publishing industry is going down the tubes.
It is, of course, possible that Adams invented the whole procrastination myth as a posthumous joke, and that he’s now laughing heartily at us in Heaven. But then, as a lifelong atheist, he'll have been mightily surprised to have ended up there, so maybe God’s having his own wee chuckle too.
It’s humbling to be in such distinguished company. But we are all rogues of the highest order, and unlike the others I don’t have the excuse of talent to set against my villainy. Anyway, I hope you don’t mind this soul-baring. I believe it’s healthy to be open with friends about one’s shortcomings. “Being transparent”, they call it in the latest political lingo, although to me that actually means “People can see right through you.”
Now then, it’s time to get down to writing a proper blog post. Tomorrow OK with you? Brilliant. I’ll just put on some nice classical music to create a contemplative atmosphere. Oh wait, I forgot, I haven’t re-sorted the CDs by genre yet. How do you work Excel on this thing?