The fine art of delay

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It is no secret that writers probably devote as much time to perfecting techniques of procrastination as they do to perfecting their writing. While the methods may vary, the intention is the same - delay.

When I write at home, I clean the house, pay bills, and do several loads of wash to prevent my presence at the typewriter. I also water, prune, and talk to my plants - the length of the conversation in direct proportion to the level of my desperation.

In the office, I return calls of the day before. I blow my nose several times , even when I don't have to. I walk frequently to the Wilson Water Fountain (so named by me for our circulation director, whose office faces the drinking fountain). I have several conversations with Gloria, my assistant.

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I read through my research and facts again and again. If I haven't been fortunate enough to be interrupted, I slowly ease into position before the typewriter and stare at the white sheet of paper coiled around the platen.

One day around lunchtime, as I sat staring blankly at the typewriter, I heard someone yell to Gloria that a bomb threat had been phoned in. The target was a major corporation whose offices we knew were no longer in the building; obviously the caller didn't know, or didn't care. We had to leave the premises.

For someone as skittish as I am, my initial reaction to terrifying events is usually abnormally calm. I was meeting a well-known writer for lunch, so I took an extra minute, before gathering my belongings, to renew my lipstick. Gloria, who often finds my weird habits endearing, was clearly convinced I had gone around the bend this time.

I made it into the elevator, however, with Gloria and several other colleagues. The anxiety was running through everyone on that elevator the way electricity travels through wire.

At last, the lobby. No, not quite. The elevator began its climb again. And we bounced between the lobby and the top floor several times. One of our editors, trapped with us on the elevator, demanded of the crackling voice on the intercom that we be brought down to the lobby this minute. The crackling voice assured us he was trying to do that, as we moved upward again.

We did, finally, arrive safely in the lobby. Emotionally roughed up, we emerged from the elevator to join about 100 other people. I glared at the building staff and wondered which one was the crackling-voiced incompetent.

As I left for the restaurant, something clicked inside my head. Suddenly I knew what I wanted to write and, thanks to some terrorist who hadn't gotten his facts straight before making a phone call, I couldn't write it. Well, I thought to myself, at least it will make a great story to tell during lunch.

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