Friday, July 18, 2014

Gone to a Movie

I am stuck. I am profoundly, officially, ripping out hair stuck. All week, I've been multitasking. Last night I had dinner with a friend and we brainstormed a short story I've been asked to write for a unique anthology (more about that later). Earlier in the day and the day before, I did some research on topics that I might write about related to funerals and crime. The victim in my next book is a funeral director, and I have been thinking about marketing. On Wednesday, I spent a lot of the day reading a dissertation about honor and masculinity in 19th century literature. I learned why Alexander Hamilton fought a duel he didn't want to fight -- or, at least, the author's well-reasoned theory about that. On Tuesday, having started Monday with confidence, I was sure that this week I would finally have a breakthrough. I thought I would finally -- at long last -- settle on the title for the book I'm writing about dress and appearance in American crime and justice. I thought I would settle on a title and finally be able to finish writing the proposal that my agent is waiting for and that I have been working on for months. I was wrong.

It may seem unimportant that I can't choose among the list of titles that I have in my notebook and on my computer. After all, chances are that if the book is sold, the title will be changed anyway. But, as I may have mentioned here, I have a thing about titles. I can't write -- or write well -- until I have one that captures what the book is about. So I wait for the right title and it usually comes. The title for my 1939 historical thriller came from the mouth of Opie Taylor while I was half-listening to a re-run of The Andy Griffith Show. When I heard it, I knew that although it seemed to have nothing at all to do with my story, it was actually a perfect metaphor for what I was trying to say about the old and the new.

But nothing like that has happened with my clothing and crime book. I've read poems, looked up quotes, tried variations. One moment I think I have it and the next I don't. I have arrived at a state of anxiety that makes me think it would be easier to write the book than finish this proposal. But, of course, I need the title before I can finish the book. I have titles for individual chapters. I've done work on those. But I can't pull it all together and say what it means until I have the book title.

I woke up this morning, knowing the title I came up with before bed last night still wasn't right. Rather than scream, I decided to analyze the situation. That was when I realized that by trying to power through this, I am only making matters worse. As we have all occasionally noted here, sometimes the only sensible thing to do is remove your fingers from the keyboard and step away from the computer.

This is confirmed by research on the value of not concentrating. Concentrating too hard on the task at hand can be counterproductive. In an article in New Scientist (6/16/2012), Richard Fisher writes about the value of daydreaming. Humans, as a group, have a hard time staying focused. Even when we try to pay attention, our minds drift. The good news about this, is that we often get some of best ideas when we are daydreaming. The corollary of this finding is that if we are faced with a difficult task that seems to require concentration, this is often the best time to disengage -- to, as Fisher suggest, watch a Robin Williams stand-up routine -- and relax. Rather than try to work when our minds are sharp, if the task requires creativity, we might do better to work when our minds are groggy.

Writers often talk about getting their best ideas in the shower. There seems to be some science related to this. S. Kay Murphy (The Writer, March 2005) discusses the value of turning up the volume on some kinds of sounds. It seems that what taking a shower or sitting within hearing of a refrigerator or clothes dryer have in common is that both the water and the home appliances produce "white noise" that block other more distracting sounds (such as a barking dog). With the distracting sounds muted, we are more relaxed and the ideas comes.

I am now stepping away from my keyboard. I'm going to go drop by my office to check in with the IT person who happily will have my office computer today. Then I'm going to go see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. After that I'm going to have an ice cream cone. And maybe go for a walk in the park and spend some time sitting by the lake. I am taking a mental health day because my poor little brain needs the rest.


Rick Blechta said...

Make the cone two scoops and have some sprinkles put on top. Enjoy your day.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Thanks, Rick. I did. Actually, I ended the day with a steak and a pint of butter pecan (eaten in front of the TV). I felt much better by bedtime. And today I stumbled across just the right title. It pays to take a break.

The movie was great fun by the way.