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Exercise Two: Timewasting

The Art of Writing Fiction Michael Wheatley

Having now reflected on my writing routine, the second exercise of Cowan’s book is designed to make me consider the environment in which I write: and the excuses I make not to. He suggests that you should imagine yourself at your desk, with no life commitments, in some form of blissful yet dystopian idleness, and to then list all the things that you would do to avoid writing.

Thankfully, as I write this I am once again in the spare room, my phone abandoned on my sofa for a second time, and procrastination has been all but eliminated. However, before I started writing this post, here are the ways I put it off:

Had something to eat (10 points)
Browsed the internet (10 points)
Read articles (2 points)
Played video games (10 points)
Did other work (5 points)
Slept more (10 points)

As you can see, much like a Weight-Watcher’s plan, Cowan allots each form of timewasting with an amount of points. These points are divided into categories: fiddling (1 point), ‘almost work-related distractions’ (2 points), stalling (3 points), dreaming (3 points), skiving (5 points), and absconding (10 points). Your total amount of points then reveals your writing habits, with both 0 and 31+ being ‘abnormal’. In between, 11-20 suggests a sensible amount of timewasting, whilst 21-30 suggests that maybe you have too much time on your hands.

If it seems confusing that both 0 and 31+ are the abnormal results, Cowan clarifies. He concludes that procrastination is an integral part of being a writer. With writing being such a sedentary activity, as we all know from looking at your bodies, we need to do other things so that our tiredness does not translate into ‘tired writing’.

Indeed, Cowan further stresses that the main obstacle for many young writers is having too much time, over too little: that everything other than writing appears more appealing. This, I can certainly vouch for. Having limits on your own time is the simplest way to encourage yourself to write.

Three years ago, when I first bought this book, I was working near full-time at Marks and Spencer (still there). When I got home from my shifts, I would fall asleep, only to wake and repeat the cycle. As such, my writing time suddenly became incredibly scarce; I snatched the moments, writing on till-roll receipts when there were no customers, or writing for the hour or so before I would have to leave in the morning. My only guaranteed time devoted to writing was a weekly meeting with my writing group. Suddenly, this having no time at all led to a spurt of productivity, and in the space of three months I’d written 60,000 words of a novel.



Having completed this exercise, I remember the importance of allotting specific time for writing so that that time itself becomes valuable. Alongside yesterday’s exercise of ‘when, where, what?’, I think scheduling writing time each and every day will encourage me to use it to it’s fullest potential, knowing that it’s the only time I’ll have.

Tomorrow: Friends and Foes.


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