Care and feeding

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Food stacks from L to R: English muffins on blueberries; red lentil soup; mushrooms on grape tomatoes on bacon. In the background, fried peanuts from my mom. Refrigerator interiors are so 2001: Space Odyssey.

As I was careening toward the end of the first draft, I was anxious to move on to something different. Burn out had scooched up close behind me and was flicking the back of my ear. One of the forms of brain crack I like to indulge in when I’m emotionally done with a project but not actually done is imagining how screamingly productive I’m going to be after the project is finished. I’ll fantasize about all of the things I want to be doing or think I should be doing and make a list (see here).

Lists are so great. They are inherently virtuous. Look at all these things I have to do! I’m a hard worker and I’ll prove my worth to myself, my family, my friends, and the world at large by announcing my intention to do all of these things, then doing them! I also really enjoy telling myself I should start several unfamiliar and difficult things all at the same time (e.g. comedy writing, short story writing, new RPG controller skills).

What I forgot- and I consistently forget it- is the burn out part. I use up a lot of my brain tank when writing a novel. After the first one was finished, I waited a week or so, then started right back in working on it. I learned how to write query letters, a synopsis, and a three page summary, before diving into editing the manuscript. I told myself I had taken a break from the novel, and technically I was not working directly on the manuscript for about two months. But I hadn’t taken any time away from thinking about the story or the characters or the plot during those months.

I decided to do things differently this time and not look at or think about the novel in any capacity. I thought the best way to do it was to launch into new, shiny, difficult projects that would help me build skills and feel productive. For two days I tried to force my slow, unwilling brain to do these things and was angered by how sub-par the ideas were. By the third day as I stared blankly at the monitor trying in vain to come up with a blog post, I realized I needed to pare back my expectations for the month off. Maybe the reason I wasn’t coming up with ideas I liked was because I didn’t have much left in me that could generate interesting ideas.

It’s feeding time. I might need to have a snack one day and an all-I-can-eat buffet spectacular the next. I might have to let go of virtuous levels of productivity and drift in a slacker sea of rad art videos with flying dogs and games with a jumping rectangle. I need to look at things and do things I’m interested in that may or may not be immediately incorporated into some kind of creative output.

Bye list. It was fun while it lasted.

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