Brain fag is, or was, a thing way back when…a term used to describe brain fatigue or what we might describe today as anxiety or possibly even the onset of depression. Possibly it’s an extreme form of procrastination!
Clinically, it was named and the cognitive disruption traced back to excessive external pressure to be successful placed upon the young. Oh, this sounds familiar…like every looming school exam, work report or anthology deadline with which I have ever wrestled!
And my point (there is one) is that the brain fag has descended upon me at the tail-end of my holidays. I’m talking about the cognitive sort, the mental road block set up by the procrastination police to stop me from motoring on with various projects.
The hitherto ridiculously productive writing period I was expecting to enjoy was instead eaten up with the banalities of the end of year break: eating, drinking, socialising and lazing about while being ‘fed’ various forms of entertainment (this year’s poisons have included the excellent Dark Mirror, the somewhat dated Aussie indie flick Crackerjack, the not-so-great Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them *sorry JK, the characters and CGI creatures didn’t hold a candle to Harry Potter and the gang*, re-runs of Murder, She Wrote, and endless funny episodes of the UK Come Dine With Me program). God, I feel like I’ve just spent time in a confessional.
Reading, in case you were wondering, doesn’t count in the litany of sins. OK people, you know everything now…I have been slack!
Short of a Clements Tonic, I am setting in place some measures (maybe even a word count widget) to get me back on track.
From Monday, work life resumes and a new discipline will (hopefully) emerge.
“Whether we like it or not, we have entered into a brave new world of writing and publishing across a range of media and books is only one of them. The fact is that there will always be bad books and there will always be good books, and the difference between them will be decided by the people that read them, not the people that publish them.”
It’s hard work to keep a blog going when you’re working fulltime and writing in every other spare minute.
And yet, this blog is my rudder, keeping me on course for the year and, more importantly, keeping me honest where my personal Short Story Challenge is concerned.
So what do I have to show for 2014?
One standalone short story, Army Dreamers, published to Amazon’s Kindle store, partly as an experiment. It will also feature in Tales of the Damned, an anthology from CFZ Press due out later this year.
Three connected short stories, one of which – For Fear of Little Men – has been entered into a writing competition. The stories explore the dark side of having faeries for neighbours, but will stay under wraps for the time being until I know the outcome of the competition. Judging takes place in June, so stay tuned!
Another standalone short story, All Hail the Queen, is about the proverbial new girl at school and her newfound and somewhat unhealthy obsession with beekeeping. I’m presently finalising this one for publication – prepare to feel its sting!
A third short story, Last Request, is in the final stages. It’s the tale of a struggling musician who takes on what seems like an easy-paying gig, but may just end up being the one paying – with her soul! Cue maniacal laughter…
On the side I have been working hard to bring a non-fiction anthology of essays to publication – The Tasmanian Tiger: Extinct or Extant? – which explores the case for and against the continuing existence of the Thylacine. It should be published by July.
So while I feel I could have been more productive in the first half of the year after hours, I’m not doing too badly.
In November 2012 I organised a series of meet-ups at my local library after being inspired to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO).
Despite living in the area for more than 10 years, I’d never actually been to my local library before. In checking its suitability for a group of writers I was pleasantly surprised to discover it had a nice quiet space for our group, free WIFI, and happily turned a blind eye to the presence of drinks and food (within reason).
The meet-ups were a great success, although I have to be frank – we chatted, snacked, tweeted and Facebooked more than we actually wrote. And no, I didn’t make my NANOWRIMO deadline for 2012 either!
Fast-forward to 2014 (I missed last year’s NANOWRIMO as I was travelling) and I have rediscovered my love for the library thanks to a heatwave of 40C+ days.
Living in a house without air-conditioning is no fun over summer and, try as I might, I just can’t settle down and write when I’m physically uncomfortable.
As I thought long and hard about where I might hole up for several hours – somewhere cool and quiet where I wouldn’t be interrupted – I remembered the library, which among its many positive points also boasted air conditioning.
I can tell you there really isn’t anywhere better to write in the world than in a room surrounded by books. Especially a temperature-controlled one. I’ve found my visits to the library focus me in the same way my weekday job does.
In sitting down at a desk I find my brain clicking over into ‘work’ mode. I ignore the WIFI – the devil’s instrument! – and get straight down to writing.
Forget hiring space or saving up to build a writing shed. While there are still libraries, writers will always have an affordable quiet haven at hand.
Make the most of yours, because if you don’t use it you may one day lose it.
For instance, my Mum and Dad love everything I write but really wish I’d settle down and write a children’s book – none of this folklore business, or menacing horror stories (although Mum has indicated she wouldn’t mind a good crime novel!).
But finding other people to read and objectively critique your work – for free – is difficult. Friends will be supportive – they can’t help themselves, bless them, and that’s why they are friends – but if you’re lucky enough to have professional or published writers in your circle you will receive much more considered (and hopefully tactful) feedback.
These people are more familiar with story-writing conventions and the editing process, and recognise how valuable their critical feedback is to the writer.
Many established writers will attract diehard fans who are only too happy to avail their reading services, which can be handy if you’re looking for experts when it comes to fact-checking your fictional worlds, double-checking timelines and assessing continuity of story arcs across several books.
The pool of people you use to review and give feedback about your work are known in the independent publishing world as ‘Beta readers’. It’s nice to give Beta readers some recognition, whether it’s on your blog or in your book (perhaps with a free final physical signed copy of your work).
If you’re dealing with a fellow reader, you might agree to return the favour. In my own experience, it’s far easier to find people to critique short stories, particularly over the holiday period when people are looking for quick ‘fixes’ in the reading department.
Put the call out, you might be surprised how many people are waiting to read your work!