There's this scene that has to be written next, and you kinda know how it's gonna work. This person's gonna do this thing, and that other person, he's gonna do that thing, and then someone's gonna find the whatsis and then…
So you go to sleep on it and your good old subconscious cranks away and, wouldja believe it… when you wake up, the scene in your head's got all sorts a details it didn't have before.
So you write it all down, and it's all good, and you reread it, and you're happy.
And then you look at the word count. One scene, not even a thousand words. And your daily goal is a thousand, hell, two thousand or three sometimes. So you need at least another scene, maybe two, even. And you're all outta puff.
So whaddaya gonna do? Go take another nap and get some more material?
The features of a useful writing procrastination project are that it produces something of long-term utility, and that it has a natural end.
The work I've been recently doing on my genealogy fits, since the information I can pull from records about my family tree (assuming a judicious pruning of remote cousins and in-laws) is finite. You can read about that here.
The second project is larger, but even more finite. You see, I have this website of Scandinavian fiddle tunes…
Blue Rose Music
Twenty-five years ago, in my 30s, I was listening to some Swedish twin-fiddle records (of which I already had a few dozen — now many hundreds). As a harmony singer I've always been a sucker for two- and three-fiddle folk music performances, and the best of these come from the Swedish folk tradition.
I said to myself, “Boy, I like this stuff. Gee, I wish I could do that.” And then the light bulb went off — how hard could it be? I had a musical background and knew my way around a piano and a guitar (as an amateur).
So, I picked up a violin for the first time, just to play the Scandinavian folk repertoire, and never looked back.
You can read about this in some detail here, but the short version is I've been going to workshops and playing solo and with small bands now for a very long time, primarily for the use of dance groups who are equally fond of the folk dance traditions of Sweden and Norway.
Playing for dances in pick-up groups means you carry around huge binders of material because the repertoire demand for all the dance forms is very large in the Scandinavian genres. It's not like, say, Irish, where if you know jigs, slip-jigs, reels, waltzes, and polkas, you're covered for most dance requests. No, the tune categories alone are broad, and many of those categories cover several different dance types with different musical requirements.
I improved the situation by using early digital music printing programs to create binders of incipits, the first bars of each part of the tune, to serve as quick hints for what tune to play next for dancers. Then, naturally, I put up a website, Blue Rose, where those lists of incipits went online, with links to PDF files for each tune, so that people who played together regularly could find them. When I went to workshops, I posted the tunes we learned for everyone to use.
Over time, this grew…
There are now 2000 Scandinavian fiddle tunes in my binders and up on Blue Rose.
If I were a rational human being, I'd sit and do my 4-5 hours of writing every morning without a quibble. I like writing. Being a normal human being and not a rational one, I instead find a myriad of other things to occupy me, all apparently fascinating.
So I resort to tricks. The most effective of these is to channel the desire to punt into other productive work. Better almost anything (I tell my subconscious) than just to play games or read. Best of all if I can tell myself that the alternative projects are finite.
There have been two big (but productive) writing procrastination sinkholes recently. Here's the first one; I'll save the second one for a separate post.
I was raised by wolves. Nice wolves, but still… There were no family stories around the dinner table. None. I had the equivalent of a single sheet of paper for both sides, together, and not a full sheet of paper, either.
Considering that my father had lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and that my mother was a war-bride from Antwerp, you'd think they'd have something to talk about, like the time Aunt Bertha did this, or the time Grandpa Louis François said that. Or even just the stories of how they met during the war. Not so. The only family story I ever heard about came from my father's sister. I met my two aunts (one on each side) and their children a few times, and that was about it. I couldn't name, with certainty, my own grandparents, much less their siblings.
When I put out that story about my great-grandmother, I sent a link to my father's niece and asked her to forward it to any relatives she knew. Lo and behold, cousins on my father's side sprouted from the woodwork. They all know each other, more or less, and haven't quite understood that I didn't know who any of them are. So when a free trial arrived for Ancestry.com, I went to work with what little I knew.
I was able to pin down more of the connections between my great-grandparents on my father's side. (It helps that the two Jewish lines arrived from Odessa (father's father) and Germany (father's mother) at about the same time, into the land of census records and Massachusetts Masonic membership cards).
When I stumbled across someone else's family tree that included my great-grandmother Clara, I contacted them and passed along a link to the story about her. That got me connections to another bunch of cousins, as well as a professional genealogist who specializes in Jewish immigration (mother of a family in-law), and that side of the tree firmed up nicely. I didn't get any further back (some but not all of my great-great-grandparents), but it certainly got very broad with all their descendents.
Even the dry bones of demographics have interest. There's got to be a story behind the 3rd cousin who married on her 18th birthday, though I'll never know what it was.
Some procrastinations are grasped gratefully, on the grounds that at least something is being achieved, even if it's not writing.
Rebuilding eight websites to comply with Google's “mobile-ready” imperative falls into that category. Which led me to update my BlueRose website, which led me to clean up the 2000 tunes that live therein, buy an iPad so I could throw away my music binders, fix all the metadata for 2000 files, etc. Three weeks later, my obsessive nature is gratified, but not a word's been written (sigh…).
Other interruptions are unforeseen.
A couple of days ago, a neighbor who was mowing for us caught sight of a mother woodcock on parade, taking her four babies on an outing across the newly cut grass behind the cabin. She flew off, dangling her wing in an attempt to lure the human predator away and her chicks obediently hunkered down, trusting to their camouflage. They didn't move so much as a bit of down, but if you click on the picture you can see their beady eyes watching me.
Whereupon I tromped around with a camera for a few moments, before letting mom come back and take the chicks off into the woods.
I would have delivered photos sooner, but my dedicated photography computer decided not to start, the other copies of the software I use, on my laptop, failed to run, and there's no help desk support on a Sunday. Grrr!
It's not the event itself that takes the time, but all the technology wrapped around it that promises to make things faster. Three minutes to play a tune vs half an hour to set it in a score, label its metadata, and stick it on a website. One second to snap a photo, half an hour to flounder in a morass of “but it was just working!” technology. One minute to write a paragraph — how long to look for a virtual pencil to sharpen?
The white turkey is back, and this time I have pictures.
It's a buddy story. Seems clear to me that these two gobblers must be siblings. They're of a size, and very friendly with each other, and it's hilarious watching each of them behave as wing man (so to speak) to the other as they gobble speculatively into the woods, hoping to hear from some interested hens.
Now that I can see him better, I can see that this white turkey is certainly not an albino. He's clearly marked, on a cream background, and his beard is black. A domestic turkey somewhere in the ancestry that expressed itself only in this individual, or some sort of natural color variant for wild turkeys?
And in other news, today we were woken up by urgent, loud, gobbles echoing through the bedroom window from the lower slope of the orchard, where two wild turkey jakes, puffed up in full display, were following a couple of hens with clear, if stately, intent.
The slow procession wound its way back behind the root cellar. Don't know how it will all come out, but I expect to see poults in a couple of months.
One of the jakes was completely white — a domestic turkey somewhere in the woodpile, no doubt, or perhaps an albino. Surprising that he survived his first year without the benefit of camouflage.