10 Writers’ Displacement Activities

We ought to be writing. We want to be writing. But when we get the chance, what are we doing instead?

1.  Housework

If there are household chores that need doing, we’ll do anything else, which is only logical because housework is boring, tiring, and soon enough it’ll need doing all over again.

But when we’ve got some writing time, suddenly there’s an urgent desire – no, a compulsion – to clear away the breakfast things first. And it would only be sensible to put a load of dirty clothes in the washing machine so that they can be doing in the meantime. And, oh, there’s gunk that’s really crying out to be teased from of the plughole in the shower. We don’t exactly turn into domestic gods and goddesses, just furious tidiers and fixers, laden with clean laundry, dirty cups, and distracted good intentions, on our way to whatever space we write in.

2.  Caffeine top-ups

No one writes without a cup of coffee in them first, right?

And now it’s probably time for another.

Might as well make a pot.

Maybe tea would make a nice change now.

Just have to wash up the favourite cup.

And nip to the loo, again, what with all the fluids…

3.  The working lunch

This isn’t a time-saving meeting of colleagues over ordered-in sushi to thrash out ideas or go over the last month’s figures. It’s the planning and assemblage of something you can eat with one hand while typing with the other. Hazardous.

4.  Going for a walk

Julia Cameron – she of The Artist’s Way and Walking In This World – reckons this is a good way to unblock creativity, and she’s certainly not alone. Going for a vigorous walk in the fresh air does help us rethink, solve problems, and just sets the brain going. At the very least it gets us off our backsides. But a walk to the corner shop for more snacks, all the while contemplating what snacks to get, is not the same as striding for miles over the windswept fells and thinking about daffodils.

5.  Sharpening pencils

There is absolutely no reason for sharpening all our pencils to a perfect needle point in this day and age, unless it is to use them for poking tiny bits of cheese or biscuit crumbs out of the crevices of the keyboard. See (3) above. In which case, it’s a valid use of time.

6.  Social media

It’s kind of work. If we’re not out there, our publishers tell us we ought to be. It will help our public profile. So we keep checking if it’s helping our profile. And then we see other writers with much better profiles. Or who are just much better at social media. Or much better writers. So, feeling a bit low, we succumb to any of the other displacement activities, especially food-based ones.

7.  Actually quite tedious and repetitive on-screen games

We don’t play the really involving ones because that would be, well, really involving. Just the dull ones. As a bit of a break from all that vital creativity.

Research shows that repetitive self harm sets up receptors in the brain just like drug addiction, so that nothing else quite fits the bill. Hard to think that could apply to Spider Solitaire, but there you go. Click. Click.

8.  Snack time

Well, we only had a sandwich for lunch and half of that fell on the floor due to eating one-handed while crouched over a keyboard. So a little boost is probably necessary about now. A little sugar rush. Just to liven things up.

9.  Research

Oh, God, and now there’s Pinterest as well…

10.  Daytime TV

In conversation at a party once it became to clear to me that all the people who ‘worked’ from home were familiar with Diagnosis Murder, while all the people with go-out-to-work jobs just looked blank. They had no absolutely no idea that in his latter years, instead of retiring to his lovely beachfront property and spending his days fishing, veteran actor Dick Van Dyke retrained as a medic, solved a whole load of crimes, and kept his extended family in gainful employ. He wasn’t a time-waster.

Dick Van Dyke in Diagnosis Murder