The Diversionary Force

An old mate used to talk about something he called The Diversionary Force, an ever-present spectre waiting to leap out and distract you the moment there’s any danger you might achieve something important. For writers, The DF is lethal. Its power lies in the fact that there is always some plausible, legitimate demand on your attention, something you must get done before you can start the day’s writing. And with any luck, when you’ve done it, you’ll have forgotten the searing insight you were about to explore.

In the world of DF, the Inbox is King at the moment. It’s almost impossible to open an email that requires action without dealing with it straight away. I suppose it’s the same misguided instinct that prompts some people behind desks to answer the phone while they’re talking to you and keep you standing there for ten minutes while they have a conversation with the person who couldn’t be bothered to turn up and talk personally.  I digress – (y’see? I was about to expose the Diversionary Force, when it tried to lead me off in another direction).

Today’s DF for me is the bottom left hand drawer in my desk which I find is stuffed to the top with old crap that needs to be thrown out. It’s in my penumbra while I’m working, so I can’t ignore it and the OCD side of my nature is saying “Get it done, then you can write in peace”. Yeah, right. The truth is, I’m having trouble with Chapter Nineteen of THE ROAD TO AVERSAC, and it’s going to take effort to crank up the brain and address it. Far easier to clear out a drawer. SO… no way. The book gets my full attention. The Diversionary Force is beaten for today and the left-hand bottom drawer will have to stay stuffed.

Days off.

There are days when I don’t feel like addressing the blank page. They are a rarity, but I can’t help wondering why they exist at all. So when the current work seems to be ignoring my efforts to engage, instinct says explore the reason. Conclusion: it has to be built into the writer’s nature. I imagine racing drivers have days when they don’t feel competitive, and deep sea divers wake up some mornings and just fancy poling a punt down the river by way of a change…  Even so, I’ve spent long hours in lecture theatres assuring students that drive and will-power will get them there every time.

If I were doing one of those horrible presentations (downstairs room in a conference centre off the M40 – you know the kind of thing) I’d head this: ROUTINE. DISCIPLINE. FOCUS. A cohort of smart, bespectacled graduates would assume enthusiastic body language and prepare to take notes. I would deliver a scathing assault on those who aspire to be writers, with assurances that without extraordinary qualities their chances are roughly those of an aardvark winning the Grand National.

I would tell them that at the very least YOU MUST WRITE EVERY DAY. Days off don’t work: you lose your thread; you leave characters lying about all over the story and forget where they were, what they were doing and what the devil they meant by it anyway; you can even forget their names. When you return to The Work after days off,  it’s like getting to know them all over again.

So DAYS OFF are not acceptable. What’s my excuse? Oh, there are many of course. I had a lot on my mind (Yeah, right); I was feeling under the weather (Yeah… same); relatives arrived from Australia (Really? People generally respect your work ethic, so don’t take shelter under that one). The truth, as we all know, is I JUST DIDN’T FEEL LIKE IT.

So shrug off the guilt, admit you were (a) at the seaside (b) temporarily stunned by falling masonry (c) very drunk, and get on with it. As I aim to, right now…

This has been a private lecture aimed at the mirror. I always keep a mirror on my desk – partly out of vanity, mainly because it’s the best piece of equipment for writing dialogue.

The next bit…

The beginning of The Next Bit can hit you without warning. When this happens, everything else has to take second place. I had to interrupt a long session of gazing at the view and get this down immediately…

“When you’ve gone to the trouble of charging up the laptop for a good session on the patio outside our living room (Jessica’s living room, to be exact), angled the parasol so you can read the screen without benefit of glare, found some comfortable cushions for a garden chair and settled in for an afternoon’s writing with a carafe of the local Red and a glass at your elbow, what you don’t need is a visitation from Attila the Wasp with an entourage of his close relatives.

I don’t like wasps. When one of their number is paying close attention to my ear, making a noise like a two-stroke with no baffles in the exhaust and ignoring my urgent instructions to piss off, I can’t concentrate on anything else. Why can’t they apply themselves to finding useful careers and leave me to push the boundaries of literature in peace?”

Day to day

If I were an engine, I’d have a heavy, oversized flywheel that takes an age to get cranked up at the start of a day – and a proportionately long time to slow down at the end of it. This means my brain is not geared for the early morning flash of inspiration that rockets me out of bed in search of something to write with (pen and paper are never within reach of a bed or a phone) so when it happens I’m in shock until coffee appears. Lately it’s been happening a lot, though. I take this as a sign that the book is cranking up, gathering speed and leading me, rather than me trying to guide it.

This morning’s flash was the opening for the next section: In Molly Kittle’s world not much is sacrosanct but spreading gossip by word of mouth is a definite no-no… Pleased with that.  Molly Kittle runs the taxi service in Clodmire and will become the power behind the throne where Council business is concerned. She knows where the bodies are buried…


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Are you trying to be funny? Never the start of a good conversation, is it? The section of THE ROAD TO AVERSAC I’ll be writing over the next couple of days should reduce the reader to a spluttering wreck if I hit it right. But…

If there is a secret to writing comedy, it’s Don’t Try To Be Funny. You’ve got a situation, you know your characters – leave it to them. Just let them loose in the scene and write about them. The other thing is, I find my own mood doesn’t have much to do with it. What’s required is energy. Given that, you can write with furious spite and it can turn out funny. Or you can be in one of those gentle moods when everything you say carries a raised eyebrow.

There’s no secret: you just have to try it. Which is what I’ll be doing today, tomorrow…


Continue reading “Funny?”