August 27, 2011
Your Displacement or Mine?
Writing is the only thing in the world that makes me want to do housework.
So, what’s your favourite displacement activity?
Weird, huh? I hate housework, I love writing, so how come every time I’m part way through some writing I suddenly get the urge to do the washing up, tidy, iron, arrange my bookshelves? It’s because my brain is searching for a ‘displacement activity’ apparently.
‘Displacement activity’ is a posh phrase writers have for all the stuff you do that is not the stuff you are SUPPOSED to be doing. Avoidance is probably a more readily understood term, but doesn’t sound half as writerly. What happens is a little ‘displacement monkey’ in your mind distracts you from the task at hand, by urging you to ‘make another cup of tea/check the TV guide/your bank account/ebay/post on this blog : ) rather than crack on with that piece of dialogue you’re trying to get down. Displacement activities can sabotage your writing, they say – though I’m not wholly convinced. I think they sometimes happen for a reason. Perhaps what you’re working on needs time to settle, or percolate in your mind and after you’ve bought those gloves on ebay, it will all come together. However, I admit, I think I’d get a lot more writing done if I didn’t have an Internet connection in my office…
I know a few writers who keep their displacement activity on hand – as another creative hobby and they believe one such activity complements and feeds the other. So, they may start painting and then half way through THAT activity they’ll turn back to their writing as a displacement activity for their painting and so on…
Apart from this blog and the Internet, my favourite displacement activity is taking long walks, which can’t be so bad. What’s yours?
From Ireland, Sue Healy is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre, London, a full-time Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln. Her book on theatre literary management is published by Routledge, December 2022.
Sue is an award-winning writer for stage, TV, and prose writer.
Her current project, a 6x60minute TV series, is under option. She is under commission with Lone Wolf Media, producers behind PBS’ “Mercy Street”, to co-write the pilot and treatment for a six-part TV series.
Her most recent stage-play, Imaginationship (2018), enjoyed a sold out, extended run at the Finborough and later showed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. Her previous stage productions include Cow (Etcetera Theatre, 2017) and Brazen (King’s Head Theatre, 2016), funded by Arts Council England. Sue’s short plays have been performed at the Criterion (Criterion New Writing Showcase), Arcola (The Miniaturists) and Hackney Attic (Fizzy Sherbet Shorts).
Her radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm.
Sue has won The Molly Keane Award, HISSAC Prize, Escalator Award, Meridian Prize and has been published in nine literary journals and anthologies including: The Moth, Flight, Tainted Innocence, New Writer, Duality, HISSAC, New European Writers. She has been writer-in-residence on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island. She has also benefitted from annual artist residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and at Ginestrelle, Assisi in Italy.
An academic with a PhD in modern theatre history, specifically the Royal Court Theatre, Sue has presented her research internationally. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. She has a PhD in modern theatre history (Royal Court Theatre) and is a UEA Creative Writing MA alumnus.
View all posts by suehealy
August 27th, 2011 at 22:26
Hmmm, perhaps you could plan to do 2 hours of housework every morning! Bet that would soon send you back to your computer 🙂
August 27th, 2011 at 22:34
btw, love your blog, Sue. it’s funny & inspiring & if I squeeze my eyes up really tight, a tiny bit like having a coffee with you in oktogon kavehaz. keep it up!
August 27th, 2011 at 22:43
Oh, I’d never heard the term before, but that’s exactly what I’d call it – displacement activity. I wondered if I were the only one that did it, if I were just procrastinating. But I think you’re right. I think it serves a purpose and we should indulge in it sometimes. Housework is one of mine, coffee another, and if I still smoked, it would be the queen of all displacement activities.
August 27th, 2011 at 22:50
Hi Madison, thanks for your comment! There are a lot of pretentious labels in creative writing, aren’t there – and ‘displacement activity’ is a helluva pretentious name for doing the washing up. Glad this post lets you know you’re not alone. I don’t think you’re a real writer until you excel at displacement activities. And agree with you re smoking, if I still smoked I’d have displaced myself to a lung transplant by now!
August 27th, 2011 at 22:44
Aw, thanks, Fi! Sending you a virtual tejes kave – and will write properly tomorrow xo
August 28th, 2011 at 00:17
I like to call it ‘productive procrastination’, but displacement activity sounds much more official! I like it!
Housework and any sort of cleaning are definitely my displacement activities. I’ve always believed that it comes from the need to do relatively small tasks that will have me seeing a ‘result’ when I’m done…whereas writing can often be such a large project with the finish, the ‘result’, far far away in an unforseeable future. There’s something so satisfying about finishing something you’ve started, and writing can withhold that satisfaction.
It’s all worth the wait in the end, obviously, but sometimes I just need that hit of doing something start to finish…ergo housework!
August 28th, 2011 at 07:37
Sue! Thanks for visiting my blog…must have been a displacement moment! Never had a cool three syllable word for wasting time. Fun to hear another writer has the same issues under deadline.
Love the image, too 🙂
August 28th, 2011 at 10:24
Yes, but it was a most enjoyable displacement activity!
August 29th, 2011 at 22:12
Could you include displacement activities in the hobbies and interests section in your cv? !
I pick ticks out of the cat a lot.
Loving your blog!!
August 29th, 2011 at 22:14
I put displacement activities in the employment and education section – makes them stand out, and anyway, I get too distracted when writing my CV. De-ticing cats is a pretty cool activity… can you bring your flea ridden cats to Ardmore? Pretty please?
September 2nd, 2011 at 22:17
The term displacement actually makes more sense to me than avoidance or procrastination because I do often get that sense of one activity complementing the other. My favorite displacement activities are knitting and crocheting—or perhaps writing is my displacement activity for yarn crafts. I have also been known to spend way too much time playing Minecraft which, while not nearly as productive, still feeds my need to be creative.
September 2nd, 2011 at 22:21
Hi Anita, good to hear from you! I like your idea of one complementing the other. Yes, I’ll go with that. I think displacement activities have their purpose – you just have to be careful that they don’t take over… Knitting and crocheting are very hip displacement activities. Creative and practical too.
November 6th, 2011 at 00:29
I can relate, as I do the exact same thing. Sometimes in mid-sentence I’ll jump up and decide it’s time to wash windows. Unreal.