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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Rainnie

The Art of Procrastination

Seeing as this is my first blog post in four months, I thought procrastination might be a good subject to touch upon, and why it's actually a good thing.

There's an old joke that 90% of writing books is procrastinating about them. That's because you can procrastinate anywhere. I usually procrastinate on my long dog walks in the morning, or lying in bed at night.

As an aside, many years ago, I read a piece of advice for those often managing multiple projects or creative ideas. The concept is that whichever project you deem most important, or whichever one requires immediate attention, you think about that one in the moments before you fall asleep at night. That way, your subconscious is busy working away on it while you snooze.

The culinary delights when cooking with words

I often think of writing in terms of cooking. We all have to eat. I for one am not against having a bowl of cereal for dinner. Some of us may put in more preparation time than others, some of us may be five-star Michelin chefs, others may just chuck things on a plate and eat, but at the end of the day, we all have a meal.

Writing is a bit like that. You can slap some words together and call it a book, but is it going to be as enjoyable or as memorable as the meal you have poured your heart and soul into? Unlikely.

I like to marinate my ideas, and let them soak up the creative causes of my subconscious. I was reminded of how good the results of this approach can be this week while working on my new fantasy series, Old Crows. This series has been slow going for a number of reasons; I'm a recently new father, I work two jobs, I am in my 40s, my senses aren't as sharp as they once were, my attention span is equal to that Guy Pearce in Memento...

But the point is, it's still going.

Slowly. This is a slow cooker series.

Worldbuilding and spinning plates

Starting a new series is fun and exciting and equally daunting. You are spinning a lot of plates as you build the world, create the characters, work out the mythos and lore. The more you create, the more you confine yourself. You suddenly find yourself constrained by the very rules you have just written. Luckily, at this early stage, you can unravel them.

The world of Old Crows is far removed from that of my previous series, Spirits of Vengeance. It's less fantasy and more steampunk or gaslamp. There's little magic here. The characters are more adult and exist in a world of violence and crime.

And this was where my recent 'Eureka' moment came. I was trying to tie the various characters together, to work out not just who they were, but what there relationship was like with one another. There was one character in particular who I needed for the plot, but his background felt thin. He existed because I needed him to, because the story required it, and he was jarring with the others, who inhabited this world of thieves and gangs in a natural way.

So how did I solve it? For weeks, I thought about this character at night - did I need him for book 2? Could I kill him off to rouse the other characters to action, Phil Coulson style? Then, after a night of no sleep thanks to a teething toddler and a barking dog, I found myself half-asleep at 5 a.m. walking Amber in a field. As I watched the sunlight pour over the grass, something clicked. I realised I had been thinking about this character all wrong. I was thinking about his role in the gang, about his usefulness as a weapon forger, a masterful blacksmith. I hadn't been thinking about him as a character, his thoughts and feelings.

As soon as I did, I recognised my mistake. I had made him too effective. You see it a lot in books and films. There are characters who are masters of their craft, experts. There are no flaws, no inexperience, no doubts. I had a similar experience very early on writing Spirits of Vengeance, when it started life as a screenplay. The main character wanted to be a warrior, went off on an adventure, and became a warrior (Kaedin). It was only when I realised that his younger sister, who did not want any of these things, was actually the better character to go on the adventure, that the story clicked into place.

So what did I do with this character in Old Crows?

The solution was relatively simple. I took away what had once made him great. He exists now as a competent smith, but nowhere near as talented as his former partner. I'm now exploring the psychology of how that has effected him, living in the shadow of someone else, of trying your bets but constantly being reminded that there was someone better, and how this affects his dynamic in the group that are central to the book.

This may seem slightly vague but I'm trying not too give too much away, and also these details are likely to change.

But I thought to myself, what if I had pressured myself into writing this book in six months. Would I have had this same revelation, which has now had a profound knock-on effect on other characters?

That's not to say stop writing and just procrastinate all day. It's more about making sure you have let your world and characters marinate or simmer enough to have fully fleshed out the potential that they hold.


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