Business Musings: Mush Brain

Last week, twenty-one professional writers joined me here on the Oregon Coast for an intensive advanced workshop in writing fantasy fiction. I learned a lot, even though I was teaching the class, and I hope to share some of that with you all down the road.

The writers were amazingly good. (You can see photos from the workshop on WMG Publishing’s Facebook page. And you can sign up for future coast workshops here.)

My workshops have become infamous among professionals who know me. Local business owners also know that by mid-week, the writers who take the workshop will be on edge emotionally, exhausted, and panicked over their deadlines.

Here I am, lonely little me, clutching a book of Japanese fairy tales. (Photo by J. Daniel Sawyer)

Here I am, lonely little me, clutching a book of Japanese fairy tales. (Photo by J. Daniel Sawyer)

What most don’t realize is that I get that way too. I’m the only one who reads the half million or so words of fiction that they write during the week. I read it, comment on it, teach, run 3 miles per day, eat, and try to get 8 hours sleep. (By the end of the workshop, I was running 1-2 miles, and getting 6 hours of sleep. I think I ate. I don’t remember.)

I spend the workshop going balls-to-the-wall, just like the students. By Saturday night, we’re exhausted, but most of us are pleased. (A few people have discovered over the years that my workshops aren’t for them [which I can understand!], so I can’t say everyone is pleased.)

After the workshop, I took most of Sunday off (no running, no real writing, a few website things, and lots of reading). I was back at it on Monday, and hit full speed yesterday.

Balls-to-the-wall, properly paced, works for me. 🙂

I had half of this blog post plotted out and ready to write, until yesterday, when I got dosed with so much perfume at a local restaurant that I had a severe allergy attack. Today, I’m better, but my brain is mush.

In fact, before I started this post, I found myself trying to find the proper metaphor for the way I feel. I really like this one: It feels like someone has blown out the back half of my brain with a shotgun. Dramatic, though, and probably not accurate, since I’m still alive.

I think mush brain works.

Yet, here I am at the desk, writing.

I’m not writing the next part of the Freelance Scramble, however, not because the words won’t come—they will—but because I’m afraid I’ll miss an important detail.

As I moped around today, trying to solidify my mush brain (glue the pieces of my skull back together? Find a surgeon to replace the gray matter?), I kept thinking about last week’s workshop.

At the beginning of the week, I gave the students a work order. I figured they wouldn’t get everything done (a few did!) each day, so they had to know what the priorities were.

Those priorities were:

  1. Short story assignment
  2. Technique assignment
  3. Other writing assignments
  4. Reading

Through it all, the emotional ups and downs, the mid-week brain freeze, the work overload, I wanted them to write. And they all did. Not a single student missed a short story assignment.

And here's a small portion of the class, as their brains are slowly turning to mush… :-) (Photo by J Daniel Sawyer)

And here’s a small portion of the class, as their brains are slowly turning to mush… 🙂 (Photo by J Daniel Sawyer)

Sometimes they wrote stories they hadn’t planned. Sometimes they wrote something short for the deadline. Sometimes, they set aside the “better” piece for piece they could finish.

They are all my inspiration today.

I could have blown off the deadline. I’ve given myself permission to miss this blog when I need the time to finish other projects. That was one of the conditions of my return to blogging.

Since I started regular blogging, I’ve missed Thursday now and again. I’ve been early (a few Tuesdays) and late (a Friday or two), but I haven’t skipped a week since the first of the year.

Thanks to that perfume dousing, I thought maybe today would be the day.

But with the students’ examples—and my own hard-assed attitude during class—skipping just felt wrong. Yeah, I can’t do the blog post I wanted to this evening. (I certainly couldn’t do it when I planned to, which was yesterday.) But I felt I needed to write something.

I get mush-brain fairly often. My brain turns off with an audible click about four hours before I go to bed. Sometimes I can barely speak English when that happens. Sometimes my chronic health condition crops up and I can’t think.

I usually have scheduled activities for those times, things I can write when I’m tired, things that I can tend to—even if it’s just filing. (Okay, I’m blowing smoke now, because I doubt I’ve filed since 2013.)

I treat my writing like a day job. I think: would I have shown up at my day job feeling as crummy as I do today? The answer is yes. (Last month, when I had the Martian Death Cold, I would have stayed home so no one else caught the damn thing. [And I would have written. {evil grin}])

Since I would have shown up at my day job and been somewhat effective, I am now sitting here, stringing words together that might or might not make sense to you.

Yeah, I have mush brain. Yeah, you have to wait a week to get the rest of the Freelance Scramble. Yeah, I should’ve written that blog post three weeks ago, like I planned.

But I didn’t. And now, I won’t do the quality work I want to do.

So I’m writing about mush brain while I have mush brain—because my students set such a great example last week.

I do learn when I teach, and sometimes I relearn things I’ve known for a long time.

Like some writing is possible even on days like today. It might not be the writing we plan, but it’s the writing we can do.

And I consider that, my friends, to be a major victory.

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“Business Musings: Mush Brain,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.




8 responses to “Business Musings: Mush Brain”

  1. Ryan Viergutz says:

    I might be insane but this is actually sorta helpful? To know that you can still function even when you’re drained. Means maybe /I can too/. 🙂

  2. Suz Korb says:

    I hate perfume. Wish it was never invented. Nauseating.

    • Me too, Suz. It makes me very ill. And people seem to think we all want some kind of fragrance in the air, even in restaurants. [sigh]

    • Yep. Makes me sick. Eyes water, coughing. It forces me out of the room. I won’t allow perfumes into my home, not on people, not on soaps, not in cleaners. Nothing scented ever. It’s kind of a burden.

      As for that crazy weak KKR just did. Man. I wish I still had that kind of energy. I used to. I really did. Not anymore. Being a sicki man, I miss so much. I just don’t have the juice I used to.

      I’m still having a blast and loving it though. So don’t let me get you down!

      • What kind of soaps do you use, Joseph? My favorite just became “new and improved,” meaning…they added scent. (sigh) And yeah, I hear you about the burden. I often have to leave places because people wear too much cologne. I’ve asked for refunds in movie theaters after five minutes because I can’t stay. I’ve learned to avoid Friday and Saturday nights at theaters because it’s date night and oh, boy, do people overdo the cologne & perfume. (These days the men are almost worse than the women.) So I hear you. Lost 1.5 days to someone’s bright idea to put one of those scented plug-ins in the restaurant restroom. The entire restaurant smelled faintly like that stuff, and by the time I realized it, it was too late. 🙁

        • Thomas E says:

          I use dove (I’m British, but it’s available on Amazon). I use the unscented version because scents can cause me to have migraines.

          • There’s an unscented version of Dove? I’ll have to check it out. I’ve never seen it in stores, but you’re right. Amazon is our friend. 🙂 Sorry to hear about the migraines. Scents do that to me–after I’ve cleared up the closed throat, closed breathing passages, and swollen eyes. 🙂

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