Running with Wolf Hall
When do you stop revising?

Hold the front page (till I've only got time to be Good Enough)

I've blogged before about procrastination, whether it's happening because your Inner Critic has found a dozen reasons for you Not Getting On With It, or he's declaring that it's all been done already, or he's dressed up as someone else to persuade you. Or sometimes you've simply run out of fuel, or you're just suffering from the simple reluctance to jump into the water and start swimming.

But you know the one where you do just about anything except write until the last minute, and then scribble madly into the night? Students do it, as do journalists, and of course sometimes it's genuinely because life is busy. But sometimes - often, let's admit - it's not that you genuinely didn't have the time, not really: by shedding some more trivial stuff you could perfectly well have started last week, or this morning, and you just didn't.

Some of us (perhaps the journalists, in particular?) rationalise it as needing to build up a head of steam to propel us forward, which is not entirely untrue: we resist fiercely until fear of the disaster looming if we don't do it gets bigger than than the fear of... what? - that's fuelling our resistance.

I don't tend to do it with writing, but I do it with a lot else in life. All through school - and even when I was trying quite seriously to become an actor - I was really bad at learning my lines and doing most other kinds of homework. I always got through by the skin of my teeth, but I rarely knew lines or facts so well that I was free of worrying about them and could relax into the better and more interesting parts of the job: creating a character; exploring the causes of the War of the Spanish Succession. And as a result I rarely did as well as I might have, and I knew it. As did my teachers.

So when you meet a serious, aspiring writer - or a serious got-somewhere-and-praying-hard-s/he-can-stay-there writer - who time and again leaves it till the last minute, what's that fear made of? I think that at some level - conscious perhaps, but more often un-conscious - the fear is of doing your best and still being found wanting. If you have tons of time, you would be able to do your best - you should do your best... and what if your best turns out not to be good enough? That really does undermine your confidence, and protecting your confidence is genuinely important. Whereas you did very well for a rush job, didn't you? You can do better next time, can't you? Next time you'll start much earlier...

It's second cousin to the spirit in which some people in all sorts of arts become course junkies, which I blogged about a while ago. I've explored before how a course can be an excellent fast-track to discovering things you'd have taken far longer to discover on your own, but doing the art you love on a course can also be a way of saying, "I'm just practising ...". Of course we all need to practice, and we all have things we enjoy but aren't devoting ourselves to. But it's worth thinking about what's going on when your fear of not being good enough means you make sure you never give yourself the chance to be your best.

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