Drink from a Different Well


by Lillian Csernica on October 14, 2015

I’ve been working hard lately on two short stories that will appear in 30 Days Later, the follow-up anthology to 12 Hours Later.  The stories are set in the same milieu, Kyoto 1880.  My main characters, Dr. William Harrington, his wife Constance, his daughter Madelaine, and Nurse Danforth, are all upstanding subjects of Queen Victoria adjusting to life in a foreign country.  Two factors make this adjustment even more challenging.  One, Madelaine has taken an interest in clockwork and other machinery.  Two, the Harrington household keeps attracting the attention of various Japanese supernatural beings.

Does it sound like a strange mix?  It is, and that means research.  Lots and lots of research.  One minute I’m reading up on Victorian fashions, and the next I’m learning exactly why two pulleys are better than one.  I have to stop thinking of Madelaine’s bedroom as being “upstairs.”  Victorian mansions had two floors, sometimes more.  Japanese houses are typically one floor.  I have to load my brain with the correct information.  Facts + imagination are the warp and weft of historical writing.

Unfortunately, a frequent side effect of writing that requires a lot of research under the pressure of a looming deadline is mental fatigue.

I have just discovered a new way to cure mental fatigue that brings with it an additional bonus.

Before the boys came along, I cooked all the time.  I invented my own variations on the recipes in my cookbooks.  Now, Michael is on a liquid diet.  John has the ASD trait of being very finicky about what he will and won’t eat.  Chris works swing shift.  Thanks to insomnia, the boys, and my writing, I never know what my schedule will be like.  Bottom line, cooking and I have become strangers.  I love to eat, but I’m more gourmand than gourmet.

The mental fatigue hit me hard a few days ago. Out of curiosity I started watching “Food Network Star,” the reality TV show where three established Food Network experts mentor fourteen hopefuls through the competition to acquire what it takes to be the new Food Network Star.  Every week some of the hopefuls are eliminated until it comes down to the final three.

I like game shows.  I like cheering on my favorite players.  I like the way reality TV works (most of the time).  So watching this show is fun, entertaining, and relaxing.  It does not require the attention, the focus, and the retention of information that research demands of me, to say nothing of the hard work of actual writing.  Fresh input.  Stimulating another area of the brain.  Taking the pressure off.  All of that is important.

Now here’s the bonus: the process of becoming a Food Network Star is all about finding what is unique about you and what you bring to the entertainment marketplace.  The particular slant here is food and cooking, but we all know that today branding is the name of the game.

One of the biggest challenges for the competitors is learning how to describe a meal in thirty seconds.  Words.  It’s all about vocabulary.  Another challenge is to show the real you, your personal flair.  A big priority is to make a connection with the audience.  On TV that’s done through the camera.  For writers, it’s done on paper, but that connection is still essential.  Hook your reader.  Establish sympathy for your main character.  Make your customer CARE!

See what I’m saying?  There I was, watching this elaborate game show about cooks hoping to become media stars.  Suddenly I realized I was hearing advice and learning skills that could do me a lot of good as a professional writer.

When you hit the wall of mental fatigue, when you can’t stand another moment of what you’re doing but you have to keep on keeping on, go drink from a different well.  Go listen to NPR.  Go watch an expert talk about resurfacing a road, childproofing a house, or bathing an elephant.  Who knows what gems of information or inspiration you might discover?

How do you deal with it when you’re tired of writing?  How do you keep going when the clock is ticking and there’s no time to waste?

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Filed under creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, Japan, research

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