In the sixth form we’d get assigned essays to be written over the Christmas holidays. I always did these right away, either on Friday night or Saturday morning. Not because I liked writing but because the homework cast such a blight over the holiday that it was best to get it over with. I look back on that period as a precocious summit of self-discipline.
I’d love to recapture that iron resolve now, more than 40 years later, when it takes longer and longer to settle down to things, to fight off the dread of having to concentrate, when it seems likely that the only parole from this life sentence of homework will come with dementia or death. On the other hand, when I was younger, there were more things to tempt me out of the house, so it’s actually easier to stay put, girding my loins in front of the computer.
My greatest achievement as a writer is undoubtedly the highly refined autocorrect settings on my laptop. Hundreds of words emerge fully formed from a few abbreviations. Sometimes these represent a saving of only a character or two — ‘mtn’ instantly becomes ‘mountain’ — but you put all these little savings together, over the course of a lifetime of writing and you’ve (‘uve’) probably (‘probly’) gained a couple of years even if thinking up, implementing and occasionally withdrawing shortcuts (‘ben’ becoming ‘been’ was great until Ben Webster turned into ‘Been’) will have taken far longer.
It is entirely in keeping with the vagaries of my nature that I fritter away my time fretting over things like this rather than making more meaningful programmes. (That was meant to come out as ‘progress’.)
Geoff Dyer’s latest novel is White Sands. To read other authors share the ways in which they go about their work, click here to read the full article from this week’s Spectator
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