From Procrastination to Producing Prose

My cat Misty is the star of my in-progress book. (Photo by me.)

This is a tale of why it can take an author a long time to start writing their next book.

Back in early 2017, my Fascinating Facts literary-trivia book was published. I spent more than five years sporadically writing it, with my time limited by being the father of a 2007-born girl my wife and I had adopted despite us not exactly being young parents. 🙂 (I also have an adult daughter, Maggie, from my first marriage.)

I’m aware that many of you who read this blog are authors, so you know the adrenaline rush one feels when your latest book comes out. You’re thrilled, you’re into marketing it, and that energy often translates into eagerly starting another book soon after.

But, for me, some reality set in six years ago — albeit a reality more about time constraints than procrastination. My aforementioned daughter, Maria, had turned out to be quite an athlete (at one point simultaneously doing softball, soccer, and gymnastics), so the driving to practices and games/meets — and watching said games/meets — took up lots of hours.

Then my Florida-based mother Thelma’s health began failing in mid-2017, and there were countless phone calls I made from New Jersey talking with her, with doctors, with hospitals, with home-aide agencies, with the aides themselves, etc. Adding to the stress was that my mother, even when younger and healthy, was not an easy person to get along with. In retrospect, I have to laugh about how, when I gave her a copy of Fascinating Facts a couple months before she got sick, she pronounced it “boring.” Naturally, because the not-boring book was mostly about novelists, and my mother rarely read novels — or nonfiction books, for that matter — during her life.

Still, Thelma was in need, and, while I decided not to travel to Florida because of having a preteen at home and my professor wife Laurel commuting to New York City several days a week, my phone became practically attached to my ear.

Writing a book at that time was not a priority, and not really possible.

My mother died in April 2018, after which I obviously did go to Florida. Five times in fact — first for the funeral and then four more times that year. I did five short trips rather than a couple of long trips mostly to try to work around Laurel’s teaching schedule so one of us would always be home with/for Maria.

Anyway, I and my sister Linda went through lots of stuff at Thelma’s small-but-packed condo and dealt with her rather problematic will/estate. (Long story I won’t get into here.)

Adding to the craziness was Thelma’s modest home sustaining major damage when flooded by its water heater in July 2018. That same month I had jury duty and was picked for a trial. And that same month our cat Misty, who we adopted in December 2017, had a scary asthma flare-up that might have killed him if we hadn’t gotten him to an animal hospital for an overnight stay in an oxygen room. July 2018? #&@&#!

Also making it harder to write a book was spending lots of time with Misty, who we eventually began walking every morning on a leash to help his health and give him a break from our not-large apartment. Pets deserve their humans’ attention, and Misty loves his strolls!

The years went on. Still tons of sports activities for Maria, though she eventually dropped the soccer. And many time-consuming doctor appointments and physical-therapy sessions, because she played so aggressively that she often got injured. Concussions, sprains, and more.

Plus I was of course writing this weekly literature blog, as well as a weekly humor column about my New Jersey town of Montclair. With those deadlines, I never procrastinated. Plus I’m on the board of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, copy-edit its newsletter, and often wrote for that newsletter before cutting back in 2020.

I began to think maybe I wouldn’t start my next book until Maria went to college. I certainly had several ideas in mind, so it was frustrating to have those ideas remain trapped in my brain.

In October 2022, during Maria’s second season on Montclair High’s gymnastics team, she tore her ACL during a class at a private gym — throwing a big wrench in her life and her parents’ lives. She was in a lot of pain, and needed to be driven everywhere; her trusty bike was out of the question for a while. And she was devastated and quite grumpy about not being able to do competitive sports until at least September 2023 — nine months after the reconstructive surgery she had on her right knee in December 2022.

Then I myself had a major operation in January of this year. As I dealt with constant bleeding for about six weeks, I began to think of mortality and how I really, really wanted to write a third book sooner rather than later. (My Comic (and Column) Confessional memoir had come out in 2012, preceding Fascinating Facts by five years.) So I resolved to start a book, buoyed by the knowledge that I would have some extra time to do so. Because while Maria still needed to be driven to post-surgery physical therapy three days a week, there would be no high school softball season for her this spring and all the driving to practice and game-watching that entailed. While I would greatly miss the games…many more hours to write!

But fate has a way with things. Maria learned that Montclair High’s crew team was looking for a coxswain, which doesn’t require strenuous exercise and thus could be done while Maria recovered from her ACL tear. But the time devoted to crew would make softball seem like a picnic, because, in addition to the three PT sessions a week, Laurel or I are now driving Maria almost every day to and from practices at a river that’s not very close and involves navigating an often-crowded highway (Route 3, which New Jersey motorists use to get to nearby New York City). Maria joined the team too late for us to join a parent carpool. Ugh.

I resolved to continue the book, though, even though it means less sleep and less relaxation time — other than reading novels, of course. 🙂 The book, with the working title of Misty the Cat’s (Partly True) Memoir, is written by me in the voice of my beloved feline as the kitty relates his life, chronicles his daily walks, tells jokes, offers information about his species, etc., in an effort to pass the time while stuck in a dangerous situation. Nearly 26,000 words so far, and I hope it will come out sometime in 2024.

Any thoughts on time constraints, procrastination, and more?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — about my town’s poor-performing township manager FINALLY getting fired after being credibly accused of misogynistic and racist actions — is here.

94 thoughts on “From Procrastination to Producing Prose

  1. Whew! I made it, having put off my comment long enough.
    I’m looking forward to reading Misty’s book when it comes out!

    So, I finished “The Housekeeper”.
    Very good, with lots of twists and turns. Is it Fielding’s best? Not for me, but it is still great!

    Interesting thing about the book, the chapters are all 3 -5 pages long.
    Mostly 5. I mean 5, not 5 front and back of pages that equal 10, but 5.
    It worked!
    The pacing was fantastic.
    Just had to mention this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: From Procrastination to Producing Prose | CAROLYN HAYNES-AUTHOR OF ADDICTIVE BOOKS

  3. You might do well to read some cat’s prose, which as they are lazy and and defiant animals, has most often been hidden from view, limited to the delectation of fellow felines and the consternation of the canines such as an author of this type instinctively maligns.

    The very publication of such a book can be attended with difficulty and confusion– on the part of the printer, of course, since cats are incapable of actual error. And therein hangs a tale within another.

    “The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr” first appeared under the name of ETA Hoffmann in 1820, two further volumes appearing until 1822, when the cat gave up the last of its purported nine.

    From the Penguin Books page on the work:
    “Tomcat Murr is a lovable, self-taught animal who has written his own autobiography. But a printer’s error causes his story to be accidentally mixed and spliced with a book about the composer Johannes Kreisler. As the two versions break off and alternate at dramatic moments, two wildly different characters emerge from the confusion – Murr, the confident scholar, lover, carouser and brawler, and the moody, hypochondriac genius Kreisler.”

    To save time, one might be tempted to attempt an uncoupling of these disparate tales, but they are entangled hopelessly, like a rattenkonig. Still, this us one of the few pieces of feline prose of any kind in print, especially in a reasonably priced paperback edition,and though antique, it yet provides insight into the inner intellectual life of cats, or at least this particular one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! I haven’t read “The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr,” though I have read a number of other books over the years with cats in starring or significant supporting roles. I’m deliberately trying not to read any cat books at the moment so as not to influence mine too much. I certainly have plenty of inspiration from Misty himself, who’s an amazing cat I have a lot of love and respect for. But “The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr” sounds REALLY interesting, and I hope to one day read it. Your description of it is terrific!

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      • It is a unique piece of fiction, and one I think I have written up more than once on site. The title has been compared to the most famous generated by Laurence Sterne, and though it is a very different book, they have in common an anarchic construction and a meandering charm. I recall reading that it was Hoffmann’s most popular creation during his lifetime, and that the novel came to an unanticipated end when its inspiring model, Hoffmann’s own cat, died. The human author died the same year as Murr’s last volume was published.

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        • Definitely on my to-read list for after I finish my book. 🙂 A shame that the death of Hoffmann’s cat brought the novel to an end. A sad occurrence. 😦 I’ve had six cats in my life previous to Misty (two at one time, then three at one time, then one) and their deaths from old age or sickness still haunt me. 😦

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          • Always had a cat or so around till Mandy–she is highly allergic. Once, early in our relationship, I babysat my old Persian pal Button while she was away for a long weekend. Before Mandy’s return, after resituating Button in her own place, I vacuumed the apartment top to bottom, and the bed at least twice. I didn’t tell her I’d been cat-sitting, and had hoped, by demonstration, to prove that her fear of allergic reaction was bigger than its bite. Ten literal minutes later, Mandy’s eyes were swelling shut, and she had a bit of a sneezing fit. No cats at home since– 40 years ago. I miss them! (But I’d miss Mandy more.)

            Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! 🙂 Thank you, jhNY! My posting the blog a day later than usual has thrown off a schedule or three. 🙂 (I was in Phoenix this past weekend attending the wedding of one of my wife’s nephews.)

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  4. Also in 2018, you were very kind and gave some wonderful advice to my friend who was having his first book published. He had been diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and had written a memoir about the cancer and the side effects – both good and bad. It’s amazing how a diagnosis of ‘you might die’ can push aside any procrastination! Sadly, the side effects of cancer got the best of John-Michael in 2021 and he can no longer write books. But your talk of frustration at having the ideas in your head and no time to get them out on paper reminded me of him. Not that I can relate. I’ve never wanted to write books, which may be a good thing, as I barely find time to read them. Also, how would I be able to watch all those TV sitcoms for the seventh time! I’m also starting to find my mobile phone as distracting as the television, but that’s a conversation for a different day…

    Given how much I love to read, I do make time for it. But I also add to my TBR quicker than I can read them. To give you an idea of how lengthy it is, this year I’ve read both “Grail Nights” and “The Moviegoer” which were both put on my list because of this blog back in 2017. What does that mean? Well, currently fourth on my list is “Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia”. Given that the third book on my list is “Moby Dick”, it still might be a while, though “Fascinating Facts” seems like the kind of book I can read a couple of pages every day and let it entertain me for a few weeks. I’m just glad I’ll be able to put a tick next to ‘Dave’s second book’ before I add ‘Dave’s third book’ to the bottom of my TBR! I’m very much looking forward to finding out what Misty has to say 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for your kind and interesting comment, Susan. 🙂 A LOT in it.

      So sorry about your friend John-Michael. 😦 I remember discussing that with you. Life is really unfair much too often, and cancer can be brutal.

      I know exactly what you mean about bulging to-read lists. I’ve had some titles on mine for more than a decade. 😦 While I read maybe 40 (?) novels a year, I probably put five times as many on my list each year. I’m not great at math, but I can do THAT math. I greatly appreciate you having “Fascinating Facts” in your queue. 🙂 It IS a fairly quick read; certainly quicker than “Moby-Dick,” which “FF” mentions.

      Ha! 🙂 The better TV sitcoms can still be watchable the seventh time around…

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  5. Oh sweetie, what a grind. It’s weird but I’ve had similar issues. Sounds like a good book I look forward to reading it. If you have had ideas pop up, record them. Til then, remember we’re all with you. Keep your chin up. This song has pulled me through a lot of frustrating times: xxoo Susi

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for the kind words, Susi! 🙂 The best of luck dealing with your own difficulties; I hope they’re mostly in the past now.

      I enjoyed the video you posted, and can see how it could help people get through tough times.

      As for my various post-Misty-memoir book ideas, they’re lodged in my brain and also in note form in online files. They’ll be there if/when I get to them. 🙂

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      • I’m doing fine Dave, thanks for asking. It’s kinda funny in the song cause a very young John Prine starts out by telling the audience he’s been trying to put a new record together, sometimes it will take 2 days, sometimes 2 years. So a lot depends on our own personal circumstances. Good, bad, good, bad, blah. After all the music Prine created, one can appreciate his music even more considering the hard work that went into it. I think your cat Misty is your spirit animal, and that speaks a lot to what you are currently experiencing. Again, looking forward to your book. Susi https://www.spiritanimal.info/cat-spirit-animal/

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        • Good to hear that you’re fine, Susi!

          I did notice how young John Prine looked in that video. Poignant, especially given that he died not long ago. I’ve always loved his “Angel from Montgomery” song; Bonnie Raitt certainly did a great version of it. Yes, the creative process is sometimes a long one and sometimes a short one. And it IS hard work, albeit often satisfying work.

          I suppose Misty is indeed my spirit animal. We have a very close cat/person relationship. And perhaps I’m one of his spirit humans? 🙂

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  6. Yes -that’s quite a lot that would keep one from being able to write a book! What a lot you’ve been through. I find writing is very hard to balance with life and all its craziness sometimes, and that’s even when things are running smoothly. When they’re running more like a white water rapids, forget about it. I’m glad you have been able to get started and are making some headway. I’ve found 2023 to be very much a stop and start year for me so far, with a lot of things getting in the way of my focus (kidney stones, car accidents, and falls down the stairs, not to mention a few other emotional setbacks). So, I understand completely! I wish you lots of time and a high word count, friend! Keep writing!

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  7. Hi Dave, life is an endless struggle against the clock. I don’t know a single person, including retired people, who has nearly enough time in a day. I suppose it is a question of determination and finding the time to do something you love. That is how I keep going. I get up early in the mornings and write over weekends. I don’t churn out book after book but I certainly get writing and poetry done. Good luck to you with getting the first draft done.

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  8. I’m sorry about Maria’s injury.
    I don’t do books, really, but you can experience that sort of thrill when a new feature you just published is popular. You rush to the desk and roll out 2+ more cartoons.
    Your book sounds right up my alley. I’ll try to find it if I can.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I can relate to your mother’s comments about your book. When I showed my (now dearly departed) mother my first fiction book, she said, “I don’t know how you think up that stuff.” That was her only comment! Best wishes on making time for your latest book!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sorry to hear of all you’ve been through. I’ll look forward to reading your book from the cat’s viewpoint! The book I wrote about our life with cats is nonfiction, but after our big imposing Bud cat began smarting off to me on the blog, the cats began to speak in the book now and then. So there are fictional bits because that never happened, lol … I know what you mean about life events getting in the way, I had hoped to have my Vol. 2 out by now, but I had a serious health setback in 2021. So hopefully, this year …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Leah! Sorry about your health issue in 2021; hope things are better now.

      Cats have such interesting personalities, so they are compelling protagonists whether the book is nonfiction (like yours), fiction, or nonfiction with some fiction (also like yours, and how mine is shaping up).

      Good luck with your volume-two book!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Dave, it is so great to here that you’re writing Book 3 (or is it Book 1 by Misty?)!
    I’m sorry to hear of all that’s been going on for you and your family, but it sounds like you are all experts at making lemonade of lemons. Good luck with your writing – I can’t wait to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much, Donna! I appreciate the kind words. 🙂 And — ha 🙂 — Misty is definitely a smart enough cat to write a book. Perhaps he did already, but any literary work he might have produced before we adopted him (at age 2 or 3) is an unknown. 🙂

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  12. Being that busy – both with practical and emotional challenges, no wonder you have had to put writing aside. It’s hard to long for writing, and feel that time is too scarce. I have had quite a long stretch of too much to do as well, which is why I try not to get too frustrated when I can’t get any writing done. Some periods in life are just more busy than others and preparing for the slower periods so you can get right back into writing when they happen, is also very valuable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Thérèse! You’ve definitely gone through some feels-too-busy-to-write periods, too. Very wise, well-said advice about being mentally prepared to write when there IS more time — or when one somehow finds the time even when there isn’t more time. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Audrey! I know exactly what you mean; often, the harder we work the more efficient we indeed are, at least partly because one has to make good use of the little time available. 🙂

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  13. I understand how life’s situations can bog you down, and sometimes the situation seems to be endless, truly endless. That’s always the time I pull out my thoughts on being grateful. (You have much to be grateful for and I know you know this.) I’ll be 80 this year and I’m finding I have to let some things go so that I can be doing things that fit my current life style. I have somewhat freed myself from the inner pressure of a constant need to achieve.

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    • Thank you, Mary Ruth! Very well said. Yes, we have to give up some things as we age. Sounds like you’ve made wise and mature decisions in that respect.

      I am definitely grateful for what I have, even as life is rather exhausting at times. 🙂 My wife and I are definitely older than most parents of a teen. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Dan! Cats are of course very intelligent and endlessly fascinating; I’m hoping to convey some of that in the book.

      I’m impressed with how much you, and various other bloggers/authors on WordPress, blog in addition to writing books.

      Liked by 1 person

        • LOL, Dan! 😂 Cats indeed are often not impressed when their humans are writing. And that takes time away from worshiping said felines. 🙂

          Given that Misty hasn’t deleted “his” memoir from my laptop, he must at least semi-approve of it. 🙂

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  14. The responsibilities of our lives do, indeed, get in the way of our best intentions of working on our writing in progress. Thankfully, my sons are independent adults so that I’m no longer caught up in their day-to-day activities as you are with your daughter Maria. Sounds like you’ve got to give up something in order to finish your novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Rosaliene! Yes, it’s much different, time-wise, to have a son or daughter who’s an independent adult vs. one who is 15 years old. 🙂 In terms of giving up stuff, I guess it has been mostly some sleep since I started the book a couple months ago.

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  15. Whew! I was exhausted just reading the list of things you’ve had on your plate! Fitting writing a book into a busy life is certainly a challenge, but possible. I have often used ti notes app in my phone to write, then share it to my email so I can later copy paste it into my Word manuscript. Good for you for accomplishing this in spite of a very full schedule!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Endless Weekend! 🙂 First Sunday post I’ve missed in several years. The wedding I attended was in Phoenix and I didn’t get back until late last night. Perhaps I need to briefly put aside the Misty the cat memoir to write a book on sleep deprivation. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  16. With my current novel-in-progress, I tried the Audrey Driscoll method of writing one page a day. To my surprise, I found it worked very well. It too the pressure of time constraints off me, and I had a workable first draft at the end of a year.

    Liked by 4 people

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