I’m an admitted piddler. I’m also very good at it (due to much practice). I suppose every writing session of mine includes a certain amount of piddling. I think every writer should be, to some degree, a good piddler. The challenge is to not over-piddle and thus waste time that could be spent writing.
I’m reminded of the importance of piddling from having recently read an old interview with the late Irving Stone. If you’re not acquainted with Stone, you can see his many books on Amazon. Mostly he wrote biographical novels.
Asked about his writing routine, this is what Stone said:
“The fact that I go sit down at my desk doesn’t mean that I begin work. Sometimes I can go sit down and am absolutely obtuse. I’m dense, I’m confused. I feel lousy, I wish I had another job, and for a half-hour, hour and a half, while I piddle, I read a little bit out of a book, I read the morning paper, you know, just like every writer But at least I’m there, and when my mind clears, which hopefully it does every day, I can get some work done.”
Of course, those of us who don’t have the luxury of writing full time must allow less piddling time. Unlike Stone, we cannot afford to piddle for an hour and a half. Thirty minutes is tops. You have to earn the right to piddle for 90 minutes.
My piddling is not reading the newspaper, but I do read short stuff from other books (as apparently did Stone). I may stand and look out the window. I might go through my e-mails and delete a bunch of old ones. I might rearrange the stuff on the top of my desk. There are many useful ways to piddle. My favorite way to piddle is to work at the Starbucks café in Barnes and Noble and go browse the shelves every few minutes. Even at home, I find browsing the shelves of my personal library is a useful form of piddling.
For those of us who do piddle, we find that piddling is a useful form of procrastination. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but if you’re a writer who piddles first, you know how important piddling can be to the creative process. It gets you ready. It allows your mind to clear, just as it did for Stone. Agatha Christie used to say that washing the dinner dishes was an excellent way to plot a novel. I consider that her form of piddling (though not mine!). If I sat down and was required to launch in to my work-in-progress within seconds of opening the manuscript file, I’d likely produce nonsense. Of course, there are no real rules to piddling. There ARE days when I might very well dispense with piddling and launch into the work. Piddling is simply an option we need to be aware of, profit from, reign in when it gets out of hand, and not feel guilty about.
How do you piddle?