research

The Fragmented Brain of a Writer, or why I need a personal assistant

I don’t think I’ve met any writerly type whose brain wasn’t being pulled in several directions at once. It comes with the territory. As someone who has chosen to taken this insane path in life, I constantly find myself working on multiple projects and due dates at once. I don’t have a 9 to 5, so I am more or less responsible for making my days structured.

As of late, my brain feels broken. I do freelance work and had three articles due in the same week recently (as well as the going back and forth with the editors for each piece). For the past two years, I have been working on a novel and besides the actual writing of the book, it requires me to do research.  For the month of December, I was tied down with an annoying cough that finally was remedy by a trip to the doctor and a course of anti-biotics.

And the real kicker came this past week.

Right before I left for a week-long vacation in the Hudson Valley, I received an email saying that the 15 January due date of a translation I’ve been working on has been moved up a week to 9 January. I had lucked out in regards to receiving the email before I left, giving me enough time to grab my work, but I had to scramble and work on something I had planned to take the week off from especially since it’s holiday season. I had no intention of even taking the slightest glance at a German-English dictionary, allowing myself to veg and work on the occasional bit of the novel project (and squeezing in some much needed daytime television viewing).

Alas, my plans were slightly altered leaving me with a broken brain.

I try to keep myself organized with a calendar on my phone, virtual sticky-notes of lists on my computer desktop and other such tried and true methods. But then I started to think back to two of my years in graduate school…

I worked as a research assistant to a historian who was writing a new book. The research was interesting and the job itself did not take much of my time. I really only had one big project a semester and the rest of my time was relegated to picking up and dropping off library books and to the occasional annoyance of looking through databases for specific articles. I always wondered: “Couldn’t he do this himself instead of waiting for me to get around to it?” Of course, he wasn’t paying my wages–the university was–so it didn’t much matter to him.

I look back on this moment with a different opinion now: What a great idea! I should have an assistant also! But I suppose my wish will have to wait for the day when I’m no longer a poor and unimportant writer. Perhaps, I can even call myself an author and command my assistant to trek to the library during a freakish snowstorm in October to retrieve a most important book for me. Until then, however, I’ll just have to pull my snow boots on, one foot at a time, and bury my face deeper and deeper into my scarf as I walk through a Nor’easter before finally reaching the heated stacks of the library.

Now that I have finished complaining, I have decided to let my mind rest for the remainder of the year (maybe even go see a movie!) and resume the fragmentary life of a writer of no importance on 1 January. Fingers crossed that my brain won’t explode before I submit my translation to the powers that be.

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What’s the Opposite of Writer’s Block?

I’m not sure if there is a term for the opposite of writer’s block but I think I have it. Let me explain.

For the past two years, I have been working on the same novel. A writerly friend once told me that an author said to her that it takes five years to get through your first 50 pages. I was skeptical but now that I’m two years in and still working on the first 50, I understand what he means.

What I planned was a slim, little absurdist novel that involves a quirky narrator set in present day NYC. The only thing that remains is the quirky (somewhat off-kilter) narrator and the main plot thread that ran through the narrative. The characters’ names remain the same and their relationships to the narrator are still intact but everything has become more complicated!

There is much more research than I originally envisioned, I have so many redrafts of those first 50 that I need to consolidate into one file folder and the characters have become much more fleshed out. Since I first started, I knew the plot from beginning to end, and many of the key points remain the same but everything is even more specific–events have changed and people have switched sides…

The reason why I say I’m experiencing the opposite of writer’s block is because I’m not having a shortage of ideas to write about or no project to work on. I have countless notebooks filled with my scribbles; my character profiles alone keep changing moment-to-moment.

How do people accomplish National Novel Writing Month?!? I know that the novels written in November are just first drafts and need to be worked on further but come on. I can see why professional authors employ research assistants. A corner in my bedroom is just library books.

Scrivener is helping me organize myself and not lose track of where I am in the manuscript (besides a ton of historical research, there are no chapters to divide the narrative). I was speaking with an aspiring playwright and she told me she uses a program for her “daily targets.” The name of the program escapes me but I also think this is a good idea.

Perhaps, in February, when I have nothing important due (I say that now), I will dedicate the month to my own version of NaNoWriMo. I just need a clever acronym or whatnot.