Why I’m Here – Overcoming Professional-Grade Procrastination

Pipedream #9

Mick’s pipedream #9 … but you gotta have ’em, right?

Fourteen years is more than enough time to turn procrastination into a profession. And from the outside maybe that’s what it looks like I’ve been doing, at least when it comes to writing fiction. My first novel, Burning Sunday, came out in 99. Just over a month ago I embarked on the challenging and some would say foolhardy, or even block-headed, exercise of serially blogging Fare Game – which will be my new novel, if things go well. And the 14 years in between? Well…

Back at the turn of the millennium I was too slow-witted and/or naïve to realise that I had any kind of literary career to throw away. Reviewers considered BS to be somewhat better than its more commonly used short-hand meaning suggested, and the book managed to sneak onto the short-list for The Age book of the year.

When my second book, Cutting Through Skin, was published, to say it polarised reviewers and readers would be an understatement. Sales were actually BS and the writing was on the wall that my writing on the page was not going to result in the writing of enough cheques to support a young family and a mortgage. So I joined with a couple of colleagues and, on the morning of 13 April 2000, we registered an online services company.

In the US, it was still the day before and the Nasdaq, the US stock exchange favoured by technology companies, got properly unplugged and the dotcom collapse began. Potential investors put their wallets into hibernation and online companies like the one I’d just started proceeded to fall like houses of cards. Great day to register a tech company.

No money, no job, my gamble on the future distinguished by the exquisite stupidity of its timing – what part of that seemed like a safer bet that writing? The difference was that failure in business is a team effort, while failure as a writer is solo. So my procrastination was elevated to professional status.

It took turning 50 to put a stop to it. I finally recognised that my fear of repeating past failures was not as strong as my fear of failing to overcome them.

There are other less welcome rewards on turning fifty. A pair of +1s from the chemist seem, at first, no more than security against the rare occasions you’re caught out in a dimly-lit café that uses a font on its menus which defies recognition. Glasses strings replace socks and jocks as the default gift. I keep losing the glasses strings because I’m too proud to use them, so I keep losing my glasses, which leads people to think that glasses strings would make a thoughtful gift.

The national bowel cancer screening program sent me a welcome letter and a kit, my GP suggested I have my prostate looked at, and I have a nicely growing collection of ‘senile spots’, brown patches of skin which I prefer to think of as harmonious collections of freckles.

But I also amassed a very thorough collection of thoughts, observations and story ideas written into dog-eared note books. The most persistent of these scribblings relate to taxi drivers. I caught a lot of taxis during my professional procrastination and, for the most part, found it far more entertaining to engage with the drivers than sit in silence.

Taxi drivers meet a lot of people in a wide variety of situations, some joyous, some dire. They ought to have some stories to tell. Stories that would resonate with people. They ought to have met some characters. Characters that would be familiar and engaging to people. They ought to be quality material for a new book.

And what of the consequences of fourteen years of professional procrastination? My two early books are out of print and my network of connections within the literary community is, well, cosy.  It’s time to get on the front foot and raise my profile to one of at least vague recognition.

My experiences running an internet service have made me not necessarily familiar with blogging, but certainly not afraid of it. Blogging is here, e-readers are here, the internet is well and truly here. Nevertheless, there are plenty of people ready to discourage the blogging of a novel.

For example, Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, tweeted, ‘Library denigrators, pay heed: suggesting that the internet is a viable substitute for libraries is like saying porn could replace your wife.’

Bloody odd thing to say, really, especially given the use of Twitter as the platform for the remark. Kind of like announcing to the gathered delegates at a Coca-Cola convention that caffeinated soft drinks are not a viable substitute for coffee.

Blogging fiction is nothing new. Most obviously, EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey was first released as an e-book in 2011 by The Writers’ Coffee Shop, a virtual publisher based in Australia.

Serialised fiction is also nothing new. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers were all serialised. So was Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, first appearing episodically in Rolling Stone magazine in the mid-80s.

Of course, I’m not held in quite the same esteem as Tolstoy. And while my own blog doesn’t exactly attract the readership of Rolling Stone magazine, the question should be asked: would Tom Wolfe have blogged The Bonfire of The Vanities if the technology existed in 1984? If Wolfe had a blog, it would likely have had a big following plus funds for promotion to expand it further.

Fast forward to 2013 and we have Google and WordPress and Facebook and Twitter and broadband internet. So, after 14 years of professional-grade procrastination, if your profile is low but your commitment to the keyboard is re-animated, maybe the serialised blogging of a new story isn’t so foolhardy. To me, it makes perfectly good sense.

This post first appeared, in abbreviated form, on the Kill Your Darlings blog (http://www.killyourdarlingsjournal.com/)  on Thursday 28th February 2013. I thank them for their support of mcphoenix

6 thoughts on “Why I’m Here – Overcoming Professional-Grade Procrastination

  1. Do you think that you could “bare your soul” any more? We’re getting a close insight into the “Real McCoy”. Brave stuff, but as procrastinator, you’re only in the little league compared to me

  2. Ahh Mick, you neglected to mention what came of your 14 years of professional procrastination. I hope this venture reaps similar rewards for hard work and persistence.

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