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Sin Number One: I Am Flaky As Hell.

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Let’s start with a nice one. I am using flaky to mean “Has a tendency to veer from one thing to another, not finish things and generally have commitment issues”. Its other meanings of eccentric or vaguely left of field don’t apply here, although they could, but I wouldn’t consider those sins. Flakiness in itself is not often considered bad enough to be a sin (you may have gathered I’m not using the word in it’s Christian sense, but I’m sure I’ll explain the reasons why I am guilty of all seven* of those in time), but it depends on the context, and in the context of my own self it does a lot of damage.

I consider myself a Writer, with a capital W and all the carte blanche that the title gives to be quixotic, loquacious and to hole myself up in my room rejecting company and fresh air for varying periods of time to squeeze out Works like a constipant squeezes out their bodily waste once a week. I also consider it a permission slip to make awful similes like that one. I apologise, but it’s what the creative process most resembles to me. When a story is finished, there is a great, warm sense of satisfaction, and during it I exert large amounts of effort as I try to give the internal idea a physical form as quickly as possible. Why as quickly as possible? If it doesn’t get finished quickly, it doesn’t get finished at all. I haven’t finished anything longer than 3000 words in three years.

The root of my sin is in the fact that I get bored easily. I could blame this on the internet, on Google and Twitter and 50 different TV channels, but I had this problem before I possessed any of these tools, before my family even had a computer and when we had the standard British five Analog channels, four if you lived in a valley bottom. I started primary school at four years old, and as my birthday falls in the summer I was one of the younger pupils. Because it was a small village primary with about 100 students, there was a system of overlap between the classes – you started out in Reception at 4, then moved into Year One, Year Two etc, but in Class One there was Reception and some of the younger Year Ones, in Class Two there were the older Year Ones and the younger Year Twos, all the way up to Class Five, the oldest Class, with all the Year Sixes (the last year before secondary school) and the older Year Fives. Therefore, when I started my second year (Year One) I remained in Class One, with Miss Phillips, a stout lady with salt-and-pepper hair who my mum blames for “breaking my spirit” in those delicate years.

A few months later there were child psychologists coming into the school attempting to diagnose me with a strain of autism or some other form of developmental disorder. I don’t remember any of this, only vaguely being told to make a pattern out of multicoloured bricks (instead I made the tallest tower I could before it toppled over – I can picture it, and the colours were pretty much random, but I don’t know whether this was an act of rebellion or a lack of understanding the task). What I do remember from this time is being bored to distraction. We would be given simple tasks – a page of sums in a brightly coloured exercise book where the numbers were counting toucans, apples or jack-in-the-boxes, or an account of what the lady who came in to do an assembly about leprosy told us, complete with illustration. The illustrations I was fine with. It was the written accounts that caused me to stare out of the high, church-like Victorian windows into the forested and forbidden area behind the wing that housed Class One, and draw a blank. I would write two words in half an hour (this often correlates with my writing process today, appropriately enough), and be made to stop back at breaktimes until I could fill at least two wide-ruled lines. It wasn’t the opportunity of more entertaining activities that made me refuse to work. It was my mind freezing like an overheated laptop. It was a Blue Screen Of Death behind my five-year-old’s eyes. I experienced daily fits of task-evasive catatonia.

Eventually, it was decided that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, but that I was simply bored, and this boredom had come about from being in the same classroom for two years in a row. Where the year before as a Reception child I wasn’t appointed anything more mentally taxing than learning the alphabet, days of the week and quarreling with another kid about who got the blue dinosaur this breaktime and whether he belonged in the Sand Tray or the Water Tray (sand, clearly, those ungainly legs are self-evidently not built for amphibiousness), the shift in the tone of my education without the shift in location had brought me to a halt. You could either explain it as me being an intelligent child and therefore in need of more stimulation than my situation could provide, or of being so much a creature of habit, so comfortable with the things she already knew and did not have to think about, that her own mental failings meant the change did not compute. Either way, it is a piece of evidence for the case that I have always been easily bored; that my ADHD-esque need to be constantly stimulated by new things or risk hitting a mental wall of inactivity is not a result of social media, technology, the modern age etc but something simply built into me by nature or early nurture, that would have existed here and now or if I was living in a mud hut.

Which brings me to the consequences of this on my life as an adult (as I said before, newly-minted – as I write this I have been eighteen years old for three and a half weeks), and as a Writer, because that is where it is most noticeable. I don’t often find myself entirely lacking in inspiration for something to write. Neither do I often find myself in deep depressions where I could no easier drag myself to the keyboard and tap out a couple of thousand words than I could put my hands down on the floor, launch my legs up into the air and upside-down-walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats. However, the chances of me finishing something that I start if it requires my concentration for more than, say, six hours over the course of as many days, are slim to nil. My head is an ocean of uncaught literary fish, and the ones near the surface have all learned not to fall for bait. I get so bored with having to wait until I have written one scene before I can write the next, or one in the final theoretical chapters, that everything I work on requires two or more documents or notebooks – one for the story in the order that I would intend it to be read, whether that has a timeline that weaves back and forth or a framing device or whatever, and one for the scenes that I haven’t got around to yet in the timeline but that I need to get out of my system and onto the page. Or for when I am bored of the events of the timeline and need to jump around in the future pages to prevent myself from coming to a stop altogether. Put like that, it’s a decent way of working, and I certainly prefer it to the traditional option of working in a straight line, beginning at the beginning and ending at the end. But it still doesn’t work. It helps, but it doesn’t make me produce a finished result, only a more finished one than I would if I was writing any other way.

Because that’s the thing – a finished work is a finished work, and an unfinished work, even if it is 48,000 words of an unfinished novel that only needs it’s denouement to be considered a whole, is in the scheme of things just as much use as a solitary three-page-long introduction, without the intention to finish it. As it happens, that’s as far as I’ve ever got – NaNoWriMo 2009, I reached 48,000 words of the required 50,000 by the end of November. All it needed was for me to spend perhaps three or four more days with it, another 6000 words or so, and it would have been a complete – if hurried, shambolic and somewhat nonsensical – novel. Did I have the energy to do that after setting myself 2000-words-or-death for a month (excusing debilitating illness, which was, as it happens, my downfall)? Did I fuck. Did I have the energy a month later? Well, yes. But I didn’t have the motivation. I was admirably self-punishing for that one month, because I had a deadline, I had spectators, I had the chance of actually making it, of getting to the finish line with 50,000 words of first draft, to some hazy definition finished. Once it became clear that that wasn’t going to happen, my drive was gone. A month later, the thing looked ridiculous – I wasn’t competing in NaNoWriMo anymore, there was no good reason for it to be this messy and occasionally incomprehensible (thinking back now, although I lost the document in The Great Laptop Crash of Summer 2010, the more random events could have retained a sort of Lynchian unsettling char once polished, but obviously I can’t prove it). Also, I was bored of it, and I had other ideas to work on.

This sin is not one that affects anyone other than myself. It is a sin of omission rather than one of commission – I know I have the basic skill to write good stories and novels, I know I have the ideas for the narratives of these stories and novels, but I feel like I am too terminally lazy and easily bored to carry them to their conclusions. My resignation to it, instead of active attempts to punish myself out of it (since NaNoWriMo, anyway), is also one of my sins – I care, I certainly care, the hypothetical joy of all my hypothetical achievements in my life so far if I had the staying power of, not even a saint, but a normal person, bothers me every time I start something while trying to suppress the knowledge that I won’t carry the idea as far as it deserves. The fact that I can write almost two thousand words exploring, rationalising and whining about this element of my personality – that I can, in fact, concentrate on doing so for as long as it takes to write it, so far around one hour and forty minutes, surely carries some irony (or quasi-irony – the kind that leads to some people pointing out the irony of said quasi-irony’s miscategorisation as irony).

There is, of course, the possibility that, like some people have no faith in love until that one glowing someone gets close enough to them while still retaining enough perfection to have them writing amateur poetry and doing stupid things with their money, one day a story will germinate in my head that will have so much power, so much brilliance, that I will bar my door and eschew food, sleep, distraction, socialisation and hygiene to sculpt it into physical form with words and spaces and punctuation. But the person who types it out with that level of dedication will be a stranger to me, and while it is a stranger I would very much like to learn to become, it is not who I am at this moment, nor is it anyone I have known myself to be.

*Counting the deadly ones only. If only I wasn’t such an atheist I’d be terrifyingly hellbound.


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