Creative Procrastination: Chris Meade talks to poet WN Herbert and young writer Esther Draycott

How do we cope with trying to be creative in an environment where distraction is always just a click away, where our page is not just interactive but keeps being disrupted by messages from friends and brands?

Chris Meade says: One answer is to switch off the computer and get out more. In this clip young writer Esther tells how she sometimes wraps her laptop in a blanket and hides it in the basement.

But when the web is a constant source of information and inspiration, many writers now feel that it’s as important to their work as the pen or keyboard. The web is what we think as well as communicate with.

How do you make a creative space for yourself where you allow yourself some ‘creative procrastination’, time to wander in your imagination and online, without being exploited or fundamentally distracted from your train of thought?

We need to be able to concentrate. We also need distractions.

If running in the park, or watching Eastenders, or looking at clips of funny animals does it for you, then go with it. In the 1930s a writer called Dorothea Brandes published How To Be A Writer, and it’s still in print now. Her advice is dated but inspiring. She recommends two typewriters, one for first drafts, one for the final manuscript. The book provides tips on alternative drinks to coffee so there’s no danger of caffeine overload, encourages us to look out for those people whose company actually makes us want to write – and points out that these may not be our closest or brightest friends.

Her message is that we need to seek out whatever stimulus leaves us itching to put pen to paper… or fingers to keyboard.

Be honest with yourself about when you really are wasting time, and have a strategy for tackling that. Esther mentions the use of timers and having separate home screens for different activities.

I would advise finding someone you click with and know you can trust to discuss these issues with. People who don’t ‘get’ the web may not be much help about how to spend time there constructively and creatively. Stay safe online of course, and playful too.

Tell us about the websites and blogs you find inspiring temporary distractions rather than braindrains. How do you balance concentrating and relaxing online and off?

Here are poet Bill Herbert’s tips on Creative Procrastination:

WN Herbert (photo by David Williams)

Photo: David Williams

Every day you should delay a little and just dilly – and if you can fit it in you should dally as well. Why? Because our world is too fixated on goals. How often are those goals yours, and how often someone else’s? Every time you do their bidding you belittle that bit of yourself that could find a more interesting way of getting things done. Here are some strategies for just taking your time.

1. Dream: remember one thing from your dreams. Last night I had a saint tattooed across my chest. (I don’t remember which one…)

2. Haiku: write 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables about something you see daily – look for small details that draw you (don’t ask why).

3. Tweet: invent something about someone you see and write it in exactly 140 characters. It can be ludicrous or lovely (don’t name them).

4. Edit the world: change one word into another word that makes nonsense of the sentence you see it in. (Replace the word ‘goal’ in the paragraph above with ‘goat’.)

5. Be random: watch, listen or read to something because you like its name, not because someone told you to. (I’ve just ordered a CD by Mouseproof Fitzgerald. Eek.)

W. N. Herbert, also known as Bill Herbert is a poet from Dundee, Scotland. He writes in both English and Scots. He and Richard Price founded the poetry magazine Gairfish. Educated at Brasenose College he currently teaches at Newcastle University. Visit his website.

Published July 2011

2 thoughts on “Creative Procrastination: Chris Meade talks to poet WN Herbert and young writer Esther Draycott

  1. I’m certainly an expert on procrastinating but have never considered whether I was getting the most out of it! I use the internet for a great deal of my research but lately have found that I get less ans less writing for the hours I put in, so I was wondering what I could be doing differently. I’ll be trying Bill’s tips out – thanks!

  2. Oh, I just came back to this because I am currently going through a phase of trying to juggle that procrastinating thing! I live on a relatively isolated island, so the internet has always been crucial for me to look for poetry, inspiring and stimulating things, and to keep touch with other people. But what when slowly,
    your other seemingly-collaborative interests on the internet (like keeping up a blog, watching videos of pandas) actually start to sap this creative energy and time from you? I’ve recently gone off my facebook, because it was on my mind too much all day, and kept immediate contact only with very close people. This gave me a feeling of detachment and calm…enough to be able to handle lots of homework and listen to an obscure trance band called Caural and in-between snack breaks go on Helen Dunmore’s site :)I guess sometimes we have to have the courage to cut out the ‘fun’ which has actually burdensome in our lives in order to find that precious time for poetry 🙂

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