Friday, March 7, 2008

On Hangovers

I feel like I have a hangover, without all the happy memories and mystery bruises."

Ellen DeGeneres

JAN: When I was a full-time reporter, I'd have days when I'd work an eleven hour day to meet my deadline on a takeout on, say, say downtown development, the power of the bank lobby, or some other wide-ranging topic that required a lot of steamlining and double-checking. I noticed that even though I'd come to work the next day, I was entirely useless. My brain was fried. I had a writing hangover.

It made me wonder about those proclamations by scientists that we really only use ten percent of our brains. It felt like I'd actually used up my brain, and now it had to rest.

I mention that because I recently had to work a crazy schedule to get my latest book, Teaser, to my publisher to meet my deadline. (that's the twice extended deadline, not the first one.) Okay, I worked weekends and late hours the final two weeks, but everyone who writes seems to do that. That was almost a month ago, and I still don't feel like writing.

Luckly, my next project, which is non-fiction, requires a lot of upfront research. This allows me to spend my days reading and writing lists, which feels like luxury.

But I'm wondering. Have the rest of you experienced writing hangovers, or am I just a writing wimp?

ROBERTA: oh definitely! Big hangover here! I wonder if some of it doesn't have to do with our over-connectedness too. There was an essay in the New York Times style section this Sunday about a guy forcing himself to take a day off from email, phones, etc every week. And another essay in MORE magazine about a woman taking a month-long email hiatus. We're not just writing books, we're writing email constantly. And blogs. And reading listservs. And planning conferences and promotions. No wonder our poor brains are tired.

I went to see a movie about a New York man and his psychoanalyst in January. After the show, the author came out to answer questions. Someone asked if being a writer impinged on his real life. I thought it was a silly question until I heard him talk about how he's always in the process of observing and cataloging events to use in his fiction. Yes of course you're tired! Take a brain vacation--you deserve it!

HALLIE: I just turned a revision of "Baby, Baby" in to my editor and I confess, for me it doesn't feel like hangover so much as postpartum depression. I mean you work on a manuscript practically 7 days a week for (in this case) nearly two years, and then COLD TURKEY.
And I'm not someone who writes feverishly at the end. I can't handle the stress of it. I'm nearly always ready before I need to be and spend the last few days/week polishing.

Now, literally two days after, I'm ready to be thinking about the next novel but not no how ready to be writing it. Fortunately I have the book reviewing gig and some freelance magazine work which make a perfect palate cleanser (is this, in hangover terms, "the hair of the dog" cure?)

RO: Jeez, I'm still so new at this that I'm still indulging and haven't experienced the hangover yet. Maybe this is comparable...I worked so long and hard on my presentation for the Philadelphia Flower Show that once it was over I felt as if I was 10 lbs lighter. (It went well but I felt so much pressure that I'm glad it's done. If I don't use Powerpoint for another year that's okay with me.)

HANK: Hmm. No hangover here, either. (Maybe I'm not working hard enough.) I'm like Ro (hurray!). I'm so focused on what I have to get done, and so thrilled when it works, that I'm dancing around when it's over. Like the storm clouds of responsibility and looming performance have lifted. (And we're the newbies, too, I guess.)

I'm also so used to working, you know, that when I'm finished, I feel as if I must be forgetting something. When I turned in the synopsis for Drive Time, my brain was still churning about it. And I'd literally stop and remember--wait, that's already submitted. You did it. And then I'd do a little hip wiggle (I was generally alone, thankfully, at those times) and go on to whatever I was supposed to do next.

People always say--you've got to stop. Hmm. I'd worry if there were nothing.

But! At my office, at the station, my producer and I do have a sign that we post on our door from time to time. Generally after we've aired a big story. It says:

** Sorry, we're closed. Brains FULL.**


  1. Brains full. I love that. But there isn't that much white space these days, is there? The next thing comes along mighty fast. Especially if you're superwoman like Hank! I have a feeling that Sheila is feeling it too, with her book just out. How's it going Sheila/Sarah?

  2. I'm reading Elizabeth Berg's "Escaping into the Open" at the moment, and she makes a lot of good points about writing(with lovely directness and simplicity). As she notes, writers are always writing, even if they aren't putting words on a page. We observe, we listen, and we store everything away for some future story. You may have a hangover, but no doubt your subconscious is churning away.

    Yes, Ro, the train never stops. Hank, I don't know how you do it--combining a demanding day job plus writing and promotion. It's a real juggling act, but it's still possible to sit down and write the chapter that's been brewing in my head for a while (and then go back to sending out announcements). Thanks for asking!

  3. I think I have a small brain. It seems to get full mighty quick.

    When I have come out of a string of long days at the keyboard, I seem to retreat to other senses to repair. Two days working in the garden after two weeks' hard slog helps a great deal.

    I just returned from Boston, where I spent the majority of my time walking (12+ miles in three days! Saturday all day in the rain!) and gazing. Also eating. I got a lot of writing done on the plane last night--much more than I managed on the flight up last week, and I credit the trip for that. Felt physically tired but mentally charged.

    Definitely something to be said for making the most of beneficial downtime--however we find it.

    Escaping into the Open sounds like a must-read.

  4. Ah, post-partem depression... never have found the cure. Except for starting on the next project....