I’ve been musing this morning about displacement activity. It’s going to look as though I’m writing two blog posts in one day here. Technically speaking the other one was written yesterday and uploaded just after midnight, but we’re splitting hairs. What it tells us is firstly that I ignored all my good resolutions about getting to bed at a sensible time and stayed up researching the battle of Talavera and cooing over my new book cover. Secondly that this morning I don’t want to deal with reality.
As a displacement activity to avoid writing a blog post, which is in itself a displacement activity, I looked up the official definition of displacement activity. There were a lot of very technical psychological definitions, some of which involved monkeys and a fair few mentioning seagulls but we’ll skip those. The Collins dictionary, usually a safe bet, tells us that it is “behaviour that occurs typically when there is a conflict between motives and that has no relevance to either motive” and I thought that was pretty good. But this time the Cambridge dictionary has them beaten. Apparently what I am doing here is “an unnecessary activity that you do because you are trying to delay doing a more difficult or unpleasant activity” They even go on to give an example; “When I was studying for my exams I used to clean the house as a displacement activity.”
Seriously? There are people out there who clean house as a displacement activity? No way that I could have predicted that! My list of displacement activities is enormous and varies from gardening to reading the new Jodi Taylor or joining in a chat group about Irish dancing. A lot of the time it involves writing; I’ve seven full length novels which tells you how popular a displacement activity that is. But house cleaning? I don’t think so.
This probably gives you a clue about why I’m writing a blog post so soon after the last one. House cleaning has been happening now for about three days in it’s theoretical form, but the house still looks as though Napoleon’s army has been retreating through it in a bad mood. I’m away over the weekend for a few days to go to a friend’s birthday party, leaving the teenagers in charge again. Knowing the mess they’ll be able to create in four days I would at least like to leave them with a clear space to create it in. But actually doing something about it is beyond me.
Thinking about displacement activity (and once again not picking up a vacuum cleaner, please note) leads me to think about writing and the dreaded writers block. I seem to have read a lot about how to overcome it, and the advice is so varied that I have come to the conclusion that every writer has their own way of dealing with the problem.
It doesn’t often happen to me. If it does, I will tell you now that I don’t clean house to get past it. Simply looking at the dishwasher is the best way to get me back to my desk. I’ve found personally that if I’m stuck, the best way is to write. Sometimes I write complete rubbish which gets deleted the next day. If I can’t even manage that, I’ll write something else. My computer is riddled with excerpts from books, sometimes a couple of paragraphs. Writing about two characters and struggling with a scene, I will open a new document and write something different about them. How will they be in two years time? What happens to them? What would they do in these circumstances? Sometimes I delete these scenes the following day, sometimes I read them and realise I’ve come up with a genuine idea and they get stored.
This is particularly useful when writing a series. I’m getting to know my characters over an extended period of time which gives me the chance to develop them. It also makes me curious about them; not just the main two characters but a whole host of subsidiary ones. I particularly like to write the opening of another book if I’m stuck on one. It makes me feel as though I can get past it, and look forward to what happens next.
Sometimes I just need to write something completely different. I have bits and pieces of at least a dozen novels neatly categorised and filed away. I recently went through them and ruthlessly deleted a large number which were written years ago when I honestly wondered if I would ever manage to complete a novel. The only good thing I can say about them is that I have improved… Still, there were one or two which I think I’m going to go back to and work on at some point.
The other thing about writing a series, is that personally I need a break. Sometimes I am so immersed in Napoleonic Portugal and Spain that it is genuinely difficult to come back into the real world. I remember when I was really getting into writing the first novel we went to my sister’s house for Christmas. I had a lovely time, but I was still desperate to get back to my writing and found myself sneaking off at odd moments to type a paragraph or two. By now the man I married is wise to me and has firmly stated that this weekend with friends will not require me to bring my laptop. He’s right of course. Although he will have his…
Since I can’t stop writing completely, it helps to have two books on the go at once. I’ve been busy revising my three standalone novels in between rewriting ‘An Unconventional Officer’ and that’s been fairly therapeutic. Now that they’re done, I’m resorting to incessant blogging in between dealing with the battle of Talavera but I want to start a new novel as well. I could go back to one of my excerpts and see what I can do with them or I could come up with something new.
I’m tempted to go Manx. We’ve lived on this beautiful island now for fifteen years and it’s home but I’ve never written about it. I know snatches of Manx history, but recently I went to see a play about the Manx hero, Illiam Dhoon and for the first time it made me think that there is a lot of potential for a local novel. I like the Civil War period; I studied it at University, and wouldn’t mind revisiting it. Vikings are fun, but I’m not sure that they’re my style. But we do have the Stanleys, who were given the island in 1405. They didn’t spend much time here, too busy meddling in English politics, but I’ve always rather had views on the Stanleys (being a Richard III fan) and I’ve got some ideas.
All of this suggests that writing, rather than housework, is going to remain my favourite displacement activity for some time to come. Although if I get desperate, the labrador looks as though he’s up for a run….