The Wight Fair Writers & Artists Circle

A Place for Isle of Wight Authors, Writers and Artists

Members Musings March 2018


By Jonathan Dodd

Jonathan Dodd

Deadlines? What deadlines?

There was once a television play about some philosophers going behind the Iron Curtain for a scholarly conference. It was called ‘Professional Foul’, and was written by a young Tom Stoppard, and shown in 1977. No, I didn’t remember that, I had to google it. It turned out that none of these philosophers wanted to go to the conference, but it was the only way they could watch an important international football game, but that’s another subject. One of them had a pet theory, which he called “Disaster Theory”, and it has inspired me for decades. Here’s how it goes:

We all need principles. They’re the way we define ourselves as we journey through life. But principles are just things we make up and decide we’ll try to follow. And nobody has ever kept absolutely 100% to their principles anyway. Without them society would never have got started. But there may come a moment when our principles are going to come up against something where we’re going to need to make a decision – whether to survive or not. At those moments what we need to do is to reverse the whole idea behind the principle. Turn it on its head, and do the opposite thing.

For example, you’re a life-long vegetarian and your plane comes down on top of a snowy mountain. Everyone’s dead but you. Help does not come. Do you die heroically in the freezing snow, or do you survive by eating the only food available – your fellow dead passengers? There are true stories in which both scenarios were chosen, and the results were less interesting when people stuck to their principles, because they died. The people who survived had a certain amount of rearranging of principles to make, but in general they managed to do that, and no doubt went on to live useful and more-or-less happy lives, as far as we know.

That’s an extreme example, obviously. But the idea remains good in many situations. Recently, after doggedly producing a column for every week for five years, I realised that I simply wasn’t going to be able to write one. The deadline loomed, my mind was very passive-aggressively blank, and I knew I wasn’t going to produce anything. I wracked my brains trying to think of something else that I could do, but nothing was forthcoming.

So I let it go. I reversed the principle, decided the world could do without my column for one week, and went off to do something far less stressful, and it was good. Everything was back in place the next week, and I feel much better for it. There comes a time when principles become something like a dead-weight around your neck, and you’re doing something because you have to, because you’ve always done it, and you’ll be letting something down if you drop it. But that’s when your principles become more important that other things, like your creativity, or your imagination, or just your sense of fun and enjoyment in what you want to do.

So there’s no need to knock yourself out if you don’t manage always to come up to your high expectations of yourself in your writing. We’re not trains, and tracks aren’t good for us, no matter how safe they feel. Sometimes you need to let yourself go off somewhere, and take in some unexpected sights and thoughts. Look at yourself and your journey from some other viewpoint. You’ll see so much that is good about what you’re doing, and you may find ways to fix the things that aren’t quite right. And that includes the joy you experience in your writing. It has got to be fun.

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