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Sitting in a Room with Someone who's Productive

Updated on May 23, 2014

As a freelance proofreader, I am very often busy and have to work, oh my gosh, like, all day, like a person who has an actual job. It's exhausting during 'silly season' when the dissertations flood in and each 10,000-word document has to be copy edited within just a few hours. But then it dies down, and I have writing time, in abundance. Heaps of it; stacks of it; masses of it.

So, in the past week I have written:

  • a shopping list
  • a direct debit form for my taxes
  • a list of things to write about
  • several Facebook posts
  • addresses on two envelopes
  • fourteen very long text messages
  • a note to my son's teacher about why he had to wear his trainers to school (the cat used his school shoes as a litter tray)

That's quite a lot of writing, and now, on Friday morning, I'm feeling really rather drained. But I still have four hours of the working week left in which to write some hubs and half a chapter of my latest novel that may or may not make it past the third chapter. I'm sure I can do it. And if not, there's always next week.

I work in a snug little office in Ben's house. Ben is my significant other. We have, what he likes to call, a creative hub. The walls of the office are gradually filling up with print-outs of drawings and designs for Ben's big project, the comic book that he's writing and for which he has commissioned the talents of an excellent young artist from Venezuela. Framed comic books and comic-inspired art brighten the room, and it's a nice place be - despite what I'm about to tell you.


When I'm proofreading I barely notice the room, and all I am aware of are commas, semi-colons and syntax. But when it's a writing day, I'm hyper-aware of the room. The room is in a slight state of disrepair and is waiting for a coat of paint; the ceiling paper is peeling quite badly and the beige of the bare plaster underneath is fast becoming the dominant colour. Flakes of paint have formed a crispy blanket on the carpet, so that, if you kneel down to use the printer in the corner of the room, you have to brush the paint off your jeans when you stand up, sending the white crusty dust flying to settle on new surfaces.

I know what every inch of the room looks like, and if you took photographs of the top left corner of this and a large number of similarly beige and peeling rooms, I would be able to pick out the picture from this room within 0.7 seconds.


The reason I have spent so much time staring at walls is that I am avoiding looking down at the Blank Page, and I am avoiding the sight and sound of Ben tapping away at the keyboard, writing his articles, creating his internet memes, industriously filling up his employers' websites with witty yet informative sporty prose. And when he's finished with the writing that pays the bills, he moves on to his comic scripts, building worlds, composing story arcs and narratives, imagining beautiful dialogue. At this point, if I have not managed to distract myself with the walls and have succumbed to staring at the back of Ben's over-creative head, I am well-nigh writhing on the floor in an agony of jealousy. It's phsyical torture to watch someone else be productive when my procrastination gene is asserting its dominant position in my makeup.

But no one like's to be tortured; so, fortunately, because we are engineered by evolution for survival, our instinct is to escape from the source of pain as quickly as possible. This is easier to do when the solution is obvious. If my solution was not an obvious one, it's possible that I would be stuck in this unproductive purgatorial state for the rest of my life. However, the solution is so clear that I can hear you shouting it at me from the other side of the internet: Write Something!

So I have. I've written this drivel. It's nothing astounding, or even particularly interesting, but it is a handful of words on a page that was blank half an hour ago. Words on a page are infinitely to be preferred to a series of high scores on a Solitaire app. So I will give myself a very small pat on the back.

And move on to the next hub ...


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