the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Month: October, 2012

Time Management

by MDY

The answer lies in Schopenhauer. Find a large piece of paper and divide it up according to your daily activities. You should end up with some very generic areas (“work”, “chores”, “learning Klingon”), as well as some other peculiarities more unique to your individual circumstance (“masticatory acts”, “world domination”, “studies”). In each section of your page, write down everything you need to do. An example from mine:

world domination

  • create teleportation device
  • gather army (+ unify ninja brethren?)
  • improve writing skills and publish a book
  • learn Klingon

and so on. As you complete each item, cross it off; as new items are born, add them to the page. This page is now your map, of time. Whenever you feel lost or overwhelmed, consult it and regain your bearing. There’s no compass-point, but you can only go in one direction.

Martyrdom is a short-term play. Some people love to moan about being overworked or under-resourced, and others immediately realise the source of the problem when they listen. Let the map direct your energies. Tell yourself you are wealthy in time, even though asset depreciation is inevitable. Stare down your complaints until they cease to burble and click their heels. Remind them that not everyone has the chance to write 3000-word essays, or have a job which pays them to work overtime. Consider yourself an entrepreneur: “How can I extract the most value from my limited resources?” Your smartphone won’t impart the secrets of enlightenment or scoring hot dates.

Make sacrifices. Those who ignore Maslow’s advice invariably get eaten by big green monsters, volcanoes, or the tax office. Exercise more, (social) network less. Discard your hobbies, or turn them into all-consuming passions exceeding even those of Klingon High Command. Keep an eye on your map and the expression you wake with every morning. Don’t waste time with excess baggage, including your own. Choose where you spend your time, if not with wisdom then at least in hope of more than same-day returns. The best investments grow in interest as their owners mature.

The Novel Question

by MDY

It’s character-building, but not like Lego. Things fall apart, especially when you’ve underestimated the gravitational field needed by your core premise. The worst stage is not the start; it’s that moment some 23 516 words in when you realise the only way for your plot to go is down. Do you abandon everything, or push on despite knowing that the best possible outcome is a chimera bedecked with a cowboy’s Stetson and the war-painted sinews of an Amazon? Not everyone lives with a book inside of them, and your career prospects are probably better doing a thesis. Bifurcation is only humorous with snap-to-fit parts.

The answer is you relinquish control. The difference between being a kid and writing is that in the play-pen, figures can’t assemble themselves. At some point, I realised my characters were talking back to me. “There is simply no way I am going to do that,” they would accost me; “do you even know me?” If I tried to force them my will, they’d just sneer (or in one case, throw a tampon) at me and continue acting unaccordingly. After a while, I realised they were right. Sometimes they even question their fundamental state of being. “Less Stetson, more decapitation.” “You should give me longer branches.” “I shall sniff this tampon!” If I’m the divinity that shapes their ends, then God help us all. Generally, things tend to work out just as they should.

Practical lessons are the most effective. My writing is particularly minimalist because I like to give my characters their privacy. Sometimes the most important bit has to come after the ending, which is when you do a Tolstoy and write short stories instead. Aiming for realism in a novel is the best way to bore yourself and your characters. I don’t have many cuts in my stories because home-movies make me vertiginous, but when I do they’re usually decapitations. Let your characters do what they want and don’t expect them to be perfect, because are you? Clean bifurcation is only natural to zygotes and stock options. Not everyone lives inside a book, but you can look after the ones who do.

When to write

by MDY

You need only an instinctive understanding of Circadian rhythms. For the seasoned professional, these will override any other concerns, including peer pressure and the availability of caffeinated beverages. Waking up at 5am works best for me. Usually I will plan what I’m writing the night before, then put myself to bed early so that the ideas simmer and marinate in my brain like a slow-cooked pork shoulder. When I wake, they’re ready to be trimmed and arranged on the page, meaning I can usually serve them up by the time the sun peeks over the foliage-line of my back garden. My friends have trouble comprehending my sleeping habits, but they say the results are delicious.

Going for longer is only beneficial in certain circumstances. I rarely write uninterrupted for more than an hour. Ordinarily, I take a break every fifteen to thirty minutes during which I stretch my arms above my head, drink some water, and (if the sun’s up) eat some fruit, usually an apple. Although the brain is a muscle, writing is less like hypertrophy and more like kung fu. You don’t say “oh, he has a sexy brain, all big and synapsed up”; its attractiveness is judged solely on how effective it is at performing certain tasks, like making people beg for mercy. Marathon runners stop regularly to refuel and excise the waste products from their muscular tissue. Although elite sportspeople tend to prefer bananas, I like apples because of their clean, crispy texture. I like to intersperse long writing sessions with swimming for the same reason, followed by lunch which once in a while includes slow-cooked pork shoulder. When you write, you’re competing on quality of output, not endurance.

Multitasking makes everything take longer. When you write early in the morning, you face few of the distractions which the day brings: news bulletins, the sound of birds, other people. The same goes for late at night, but by that time my energy’s already been spent fending off hours of unwanted stimuli. The pain of pre-dawn sharpens the senses, salts the brain’s interior with a clarity that stings so much your only option is to excise it onto the page. The worst time for working is 11.30am on a Tuesday, especially if you’re perched at the water’s edge surrounded by business meetings and risotto topped off with slow-cooked pork shoulder. I have trouble acclimatising myself to these sorts of situations, but their results are delicious.