How I Write
I begin with a few phone calls. Not calls about what or how I should write, just calls to friends. The arduous chatting — paying no attention to the task at hand except, perhaps, mentioning that I have a deadline looming — works up quite an appetite. I wander into my kitchen, survey the contents of the refrigerator, crank open a can of Rosarita Vegetarian Refried Beans, and construct some bean and cheese burritos.
Once the meal is over, it’s time to get to work. I fire up the computer, but that’s where I keep my things-to-do list. Before I can start writing I’m reminded that I have bills to pay, plants to water, birthday cards to send, and trash to put out. I attend to those necessities, then start the word processor. I type my name and the date, fiddle a bit with titles and headings, choose a new type face, and try to recall all the thoughts I’ve had since receiving the assignment. One more time I promise myself that I will buy a notebook and use it — too many great ideas have nibbled at my consciousness, then gotten away.
I start to type the introduction, then suddenly I’m back in the kitchen washing the dishes. I’ve had the writing assignment for weeks, and time has grown critically short. Still, I’ve started the dishes, my hands are sudsy, and I might as well finish. As soon as the dishes are done, I’ll be able to get to work.
If the assignment is a particularly long or odious one, my house will sparkle before I’m done. Time and again unseen forces will transport me out of my chair toward tasks which would otherwise remain undone for months: vacuuming floors, dusting shelves, washing the bathtub. One particularly distasteful magazine assignment even had me defrosting the refrigerator before it was finished.
I do not perform these duties with particular joy. I spend the entire time fretting about the writing that isn’t done. I chastise myself for procrastinating. I threaten myself with horrible deprivations should I fail to get back to writing immediately. Then I head for the kitchen and open a bag of chocolate chips.
Seated once again at the word processor, chocolate at the ready, I begin to write. The magic happens. Words flow. I ignore calls from friends, playful overtures from the kitten, the beckoning of household chores. Where I have agonized for days, a few hours’ work yields a rough product, needing only thoughtful editing to make it complete.
At this stage I wonder: couldn’t I have saved myself all that trouble by spending those few hours weeks ago, instead of waiting until the last moment, worrying every hour in the interim? Is the stewing and procrastinating a part of the writing process, a chance to let my subconscious plan and organize? Or am I rationalizing my lack of self-discipline? I resolve to find out. Next time I will begin the work as soon as possible. I will not procrastinate. I will finish the work early and be able to spend hours editing it — housework be damned.
— Ron Risley – 31 Jan 1991