Why Procrastination Can Be a Writer’s Most Powerful Tool

Roy, Joyce and Kundera: just the right company to be in

Mario López-Goicoechea
Mar 11 · 4 min read
Time waits for no one, except for writers. Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

The art (or job, if you like) of writing is full of ironies. Whilst many on Medium swear by a 20- or 30-article-per-month routine, others are just as happy churning out pieces every other week. In reality, no one knows any better. Just do what is right for you.

And you could do worse than looking at what established writers get up to. For instance, Arundhati Roy’s long-awaited second novel arrived in 2016. Named , this was the author’s sophomore effort after a 20-year lull. Compared to famous procrastinators such as Harper Lee and Leon Tolstoy, two decades might not seem much, but what hid behind the wait?

I, for one, was really looking forward to reading . If it was anything like , Arundhati’s only novel until then, I expected free-jazz-like sentences jumping off the page. A language as rich as the twins Rahel and Estha’s imagination. And a million-story plot. I wanted to be surprised and shaken, but also entertained.

Therein, then, lies the dilemma of the “tardy” author.

Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh

I have often wondered what led the likes of Joyce and Kundera to wait several years before continuing to do what was apparently natural to them: novel-writing. The former let seventeen years slip by between and . The latter took thirteen to complete after the publication of . Was it fear of not rising up to the challenge posed by the devoted reader? Or perhaps dea(r)th of creativity?

I have a theory. Authors whose oeuvre transcends the confines of literature and become bywords for cultural phenomena (think Rushdie’s and its social and political connotations) have much more to lose if their next book does not stand up to scrutiny as their previous one. That is a lot of pressure already. On top of that, there is the commercial one. They have to make money. After all, this is their craft. So, making money whilst remaining authentic. Fancy giving that a try, reader?

A second reason for any dilly-dallying when bringing another book out could be linked to fear of disappointing followers. For me, Kundera’s philosophical musings are central to his narratives. Without them, I would not have enjoyed or . Hence my feelings of frustration when I read his three “French” novellas (they were written in French rather than Czech, the language he had used until then). They lacked his usual insightful, eagle-eye examinations. Understandably, Milan went away and came back with what many thought was a return to the golden years of , his 2015 effort .

Self-consciousness could be another factor. Harper Lee famously miscalculated the impact of on both the public and the critics. The fact that the novel was so well received and that there was such open encouragement for her to keep on writing might have been one of the reasons why she became a recluse.

Lazing on a Sunday afternoon

Some of you are probably thinking “

You are right. Not only that but also, not writing a second or third or fourth novel for fifteen, twenty or thirty years does not mean that the writer . Arundhati Roy was very busy writing non-fiction during those two decades. Some of it I read and it was just as good as the make-believe world she created in .

What, then, makes a writer procrastinate? I have no idea, other than it seems to do the trick for some. What I do know is that sometimes, just like in 2016 with Roy, the delay was worth the wait. Especially when the book was a celebration of an author at the height of her literary powers. I’ll certainly toast to that any time.

SYNERGY

This publication bring writers, editors, bloggers, freelancers, and readers in one place.

Mario López-Goicoechea

Written by

London-based, Cuban writer. Author of “Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner”, to be published by Austin Macauley. Has written for The Guardian and Prospect.

SYNERGY

SYNERGY

SYNERGY hosts articles about all aspects of writing, editing, blogging, and freelancing.

Mario López-Goicoechea

Written by

London-based, Cuban writer. Author of “Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner”, to be published by Austin Macauley. Has written for The Guardian and Prospect.

SYNERGY

SYNERGY

SYNERGY hosts articles about all aspects of writing, editing, blogging, and freelancing.

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