For the last three summers I've set myself a single, achievable project which, given minimal discipline, ought to be finished before the academic year trundles into gear again. Then I take on a side-project, usually by invitation, something shorter and sufficiently different from project A that it will not only not distract me from project A but provide a valuable contrast. Things not going so well on the novel? Maybe work on the new pamphlet-length sequence for a couple of hours!
The process by which this branch and sub-branch of a project multiplies over the course of the summer is insidious and is entirely the fault of Bodle: the longest serving and jolliest evil spirit inhabiting my soul.
Bodle will say, 'That new pamphlet-length sequence you're working on: don't you think that needs a pamphlet-length-sequence within a pamphlet-length sequence, in case people think you're getting too unself-referential?'
'Well sure, Bodle,' I'll say, closing and saving my document.
'Maybe it should be in the form of song, then you could have a live show with your friend on piano! You can rent a General's uniform! This can be project B(ii)!'
'By Jove, Bodle, I think you're onto something,' I'll say, spending the rest of the day trying to write a jazz standard which rhymes "Rasputin" with "stick the boot in".
'And by the way,' Bodle will say, sensing I'm already weak, 'I just had a vision of the future in which you are a celebrated playwright.'
'Get out!' I say. 'Not as in, the power of Christ compels you, you understand, Bodle. I mean "get out!" as in "get out of town!" - a chirpy Americanism which expresses surprise by feigning incredulity through the threat of exile. And am I also a radio playwright?'
'What a horrendously laboured gag!' exclaims Bodle, knowing damn well that this makes me an ideal candidate for radio. 'That's actually what makes your reputation before you turn to the stage.'
'So that's project C and C(ii),' I say, opening two further documents. 'But what about a sub-project for A?'
'The French anti-novel isn't getting any staler,' says Bodle. 'Why not get in contact with an enterprising small press and sign a contract for a 50,000 word experimental piece narrated by a holographic dolphin sticker in a Japanese girl's schoolbook?'
'Why, I can see the cover already!' I cry.
'And what could make for better relief from writing a novel than an anti-novel?'
'You speak the truth, Bodle,' I say, opening the novel again, and opening another document which I save as "ANTI NOVEL".
'And while we're on the subject,' says Bodle, 'Children's picture book. And grown up book in the style of a children's picture book.'
'Check; check,' I say, getting out some sheets of A3.
'And weren't you planning on revitalising traditional form even though countless half-baked "movements" have already disintegrated in a puff of reader apathy trying to do just that?'
'I already have a deadline.'
'And I'd just like to drop into the mix: science fiction.'
'Remember how much you love science fiction?'
'Isn't it really your ultimate dream to write a great science fiction novel?'
'It's a fair cop, Bodle.'
'And what about your blog? You haven't posted anything on there for two months if you don't count a bitchy riposte to an Amazon review which you had second thoughts about and took down.'
'If there's one thing that matters in this world,' I tell Bodle, 'it's being seen to be able to take criticism.'
'Also screenplays,' says Bodle. 'Screenplays are very important.'
'That all starts tonight,' I say, heading to the shops to buy a new notebook. Halfway through doing up one of my shoes, I freeze. 'But Bodle,' I say, 'what if all of these projects become totally overwhelming and maroon me in a sea of indecision. What if, in reality, these "ideas" are just excuses not to get on with the project I know I have to finish?'
'Remind me,' says Bodle. 'Was that C or F(iii)?'
'As you know very well, Bodle,' I tell him, 'It is B(ii).'
'The only solution,' begins Bodle, after a pause, 'as I see it, is to start a website where writers share 5,000 word essays about distraction as an integral part of the creative process. How do you remain focused on one creative project? How do you keep your creative profligacy in check?'
'This sounds promising.'
'Let's talk logos,' says Bodle.