Zombie hours. We all have them. You know, that stretch of time when you feel about as vibrant and intelligent and insightful as a stick figure of a sleepwalking corpse. You dream of napping under your desk. You eat chocolate chips by the handful. Your five-minute Twitter break turns into a forty-five minute Twitter break.
For me, the zombie hours most often strike midmorning if I'm sleep-deprived or in early afternoon on a normal day. Sometimes I can turn the zombie hours into good hours by granting myself a 10-minute nap, taking a brisk walk, or brewing some tea. I recommend trying these solutions first.
Okay, you tried that, and you are still struggling to remember how to spell your own name and biting your tongue to stay awake. Do you just give up? Are you done being productive today?
My trick at this point is to go to my zombie task list. This is the set of jobs on any number of current projects (creative, academic, personal or otherwise) that require very little creativity or intellect but nevertheless need to be done at some time. Instead of feeling crappy about the fact that I am not producing as much as I'd like on the day's "real" task, I give one of my future selves a gift of time by taking care of some boring task now so that I won't have to waste productive time on it later. Some of the items on my zombie task list:
(1) Format bibliography for Silva paper
(2) Look up articles on glossaries in YA fiction
(3) Find swim lesson options for Liam
(4) Organize file cabinet
(5) Follow up on articles that have been submitted for over 3 months
(6) Check for emails that I haven't answered
Sometimes by embracing your limited capacities during the zombie hours, you can still get a task done. Often, sometime toward the end of the zombie job, I realize that I'm feeling a little more alert, and I can go back to "real" work. Other times, I'm still little better than an animated corpse, and so I keep working my way down the zombie task list.
So there. Put your zombie hours to work.
These days I'm doing most of my work from that "other" side of myself--the comparative literature PhD candidate side. My goal is to finish a full draft of my dissertation by early next spring, a very ambitious timeline for a humanities dissertation, much less one in literature.
But I'm told it can be done, and I HAVE managed to produce A LOT OF WORDS in similar amounts of time. Of course, as I explained to a writing buddy... in fiction, I can improvise. I can't really do that to the same degree with literary criticism.
The good news is that the work is exciting and challenging. It keeps me cranking away during the day and wakes me up at night with (mostly helpful) revelations. Thanks to the elves in the back corridors of my brain who are making that happen... I don't think I could do this without you.
To motivate myself, I have combined a favorite photo of "my boys" (because they are a big reason for wanting to get this done sooner than later) with my ambitious but achievable writing schedule. Any other brilliant ideas for staying motivated and on task? Email or comment... I'm always looking to boost my productivity.
I've got fingers crossed that I'll land a dissertation fellowship to cover childcare next year--and buy myself a few hours a week to dip back into fiction even as I'm writing the Frankendraft of my dissertation.
Anybody who's remotely paying attention should know that I love Scrivener. I'm near evangelical about its virtues for everything from novel-writing to blog-touring to academic blah organizing. (Yes, my academic blahs need to be organized.)
But there's something that happens to me when I write in Scrivener. It's so easy to start a new file that I end up with a file for every little bit of half-way coherent prose (I'm talking new files for single sentences, folks). Things get so fragmented that I feel like I need a vacuum cleaner to gather it all together again.
What I actually did was to resort to old-fashioned paper, as I explained here. Below are just a few of the zillions of little bits that I needed to place or discard, which was somehow too complicated on the screen. I kept shifting around stuff I really just needed to trash.
The paper solution is working out okay to get me through the end of a draft for novel #3, but I'm thinking... there must be a better way. Not a better way than Scrivener (impossible!), but a better way to use·Scrivener for novel work.·
The problem is that I write stuff before I have a clear sense of organization, not just of the novel itself but even of my writing of the novel. Perhaps the key is to start with better folders for slotting files I'm not ready to use in the MS yet.
I think my problem is that I put too much starter material into Scrivener when I should limit myself to just what is going into the MS. Part of this I blame on Scrivener's awesomeness, which includes handy places to append PDF and image files. That seemed very cool when I had hardly written anything and was hiding behind my research, but now that the MS itself has hundreds of files, those extra sixty down in research are just making me feel all the more encumbered.
For more ideas on how to handle planning and writing in Scrivener, check out this great post, which floats the idea of doing planning in Evernote and reserving Scrivener for "actual" writing.
I may try that for novel #4.