Magazine article The Spectator

Novel Distractions

Magazine article The Spectator

Novel Distractions

Article excerpt

Procrastination is easier in the age of Google - but less honest

I read that Damon Runyon, in New York in the 1930s, would get up at 1 p.m. for a breakfast of 'fruit, broiled kidneys, toast and six cups of coffee'. Then he would read all the newspapers. Then he would bathe, shave, dress and go out for a long walk which would probably include some shopping -- one of his favourite activities. ('He wanted to buy prize fighters, and racehorses, and great houses, and stacks of clothes and jewellery for his lovely [second] wife.') In the early evening he would return to his house to change into 'an entirely different lounge suit' before proceeding to a restaurant for dinner with friends, invariably an extended and noisy event, and then ducking into the cinema ('perhaps to two different shows'), after which he would set up shop in another restaurant for 'another long session' and 'hours of talk'. When he eventually went home, at two or three o'clock in the morning, he would read the early editions of the morning papers and after that -- only then -- would he sit down and write for four hours before bed.

Well, bully for him. It is 06.59 in Dorset and not much has been achieved so far this a.m. If he were my guest Damon Runyon would be disappointed, bored and probably hungry, unless spinach or marmalade, of which I have plenty, are his favourite foods. It is light, or lightish given the weather, and I can see outside my window an enormous pheasant pacing up and down on the grass. This one has spent the last two winters in my garden -- avoiding the local shooters -- but he is cheerless and unsociable, supercilious and disapproving, peevish even on the sunniest days and ridiculous in fancy dress. All the other birds laugh at him. For each and every one of these reasons he reminds me of Malvolio, that conceited suitor, 'yonder i' the sun practising behaviour to his own shadow', wandering about in (another) Olivia's garden and giving himself airs: 'I have heard herself come thus near, that, should she fancy, it should be one of my complexion.' Impertinent fellow.

I am avoiding the book which I am supposed to be writing. I've fallen out with it. I've even started deleting it, in chunks, when-ever I go near it. This is an unhelpful compulsion: every morning I sit at my desk, humming along like Sweeney Todd, and slice away two or three thousand words whose appearance happens to offend me. A month ago 'The End' was nigh but now it most definitely isn't. …

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