February 29, 2024

Sash windows. Panel doors. Door furniture. Lights. Broken stuff.

There you are. My Big Five favorite DIY procrastination keeps me from what I’m meant to be doing all day, which is writing.

Unlike Jennifer, I’m not a blogger. And unlike the committed souls whose books Jennifer blogs about, I’m not a novelist either. This writer is a business copywriter, a time-served pro in the business of helping businesses to get their marketing messages right, and then get them out there.

It’s a great profession, don’t get me wrong. With its fascinating challenges, ever-changing mix of clients, and surprising array of client ventures, it’s stimulating and involving.

But that doesn’t mean that, like all writing, starting it right this second always seems less appealing than doing something else first. As I work from home, incomplete – or as yet unstarted – DIY tasks come pretty high on that list.

Writing, after all, is a conceptual task. Intellectual. While it most certainly has its challenges, they are to be solved in the mind. And in a digital age, even the output, the few hundred words on this or that, cease to exist.

The Contrasting Appeal of DIY Work

You’ll understand the appeal of DIY by contrast. Not only does it legitimize procrastination (it’s so much easier to justify a couple of hours to prepare a window frame than it is two hours lost to Facebook): but it also satisfied the need for physical work leading to tangible results.

So my Big Five, then. The tasks that most enjoyably displace the copywriting job at hand.

Sash Windows. I live in an Edwardian house with old sash windows. Fourteen of them. Within a few months of moving here I’d lovingly freed each one of old paint, taken it apart, replaced its cords, renewed pulleys where they were broken, and replaced beads. In the years since then, they’ve become like old friends, with every malady they experience a perfect excuse to shelve the copywriting for an afternoon.

Pine doors. As I said, the house is 110 years old. So the doors are made of heavy pitch pine, with four or six panels and decorative panel beads. Sometimes they need a little TLC. For years we had them all finished bare (having moved here when they had already been stripped, but now they’re all painted again, soft and soothing eggshell finishes applying hiding with suitable dignity the repairs I’ve applied lovingly to their century of battle scars. No idea how many writing hours have gone their way, but it’s quite a few.

Door furniture. You’d think it would go with the doors, wouldn’t you? But I don’t think so. Handles, hinges, escutcheons, latches, mortice locks. They all call to you as you pass. “Tighten my screws.” “Oil me.” “Refix my pin.” “Replace my broken strike plate.” Sometimes, when the writing is losing my interest, I’ll succumb to their siren call and reach for the oil dropper and a small screwdriver. This is not the caring woodcraft task that looking after the doors themselves is. This is engineering, and it satisfies quite a different kind of desire for distraction.

Lights. There are a lot of bulbs in my house. So I can swap out the time you’d need to pen a nifty opening paragraph of sales copy with the replacement of a GU10 on just about any day I choose. But there’s a deeper level of procrastinating tasks, here, too. Sometimes lights nag at you so that they want to move. Long to move. Or require a friend: two pendants where currently there hangs just one. These are great jobs. You can easily put off an entire day’s writing with one of these, and that’s before you even begin to think about making good and redecorating.

Broken stuff. You have to love it, don’t you? Even if you’re home is in tip-top order, there is always, always a broken thingy lying in sickbay awaiting surgery. I love these tasks. Small mechanical misfirings of a spring or a slipped cog. Tiny breaks to filament wires that demand the kind of soldering iron I’ve owned since I was eight. Electrical stuff that has “stopped”. Drawers that “keep sticking”. The greatest virtue of these tasks? They never come to an end. Thankfully, however much copywriting there is to be done, and even if no door or window requires attention, there’ll always be a damaged thingy for which to delay sitting down at my desk.

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