Saturday, 18 January 2014

My brain is a chest of drawers. Everything has its place

Okay, I suppose my brain isn't exactly a chest of drawers. After all a chest of drawers is a piece of furniture, while my brain is a complex piece of anatomy composed of a combination of neurons and glial cells. Also, while my brain actually fits quite nicely inside my head, I have a feeling I'd find it a bit of a struggle to fit a chest of drawers in there. But let's forget about being literal just for a moment and go with the analogy.

I'm really busy (I know, it's something I go on about all the time, but at least it helps provide fodder for these posts ). At work, I generally have at least five and often more projects on the go. As for writing, at the moment I would say I officially have six projects at different stages, some with different publishers and others I'm managing myself. Then there's the family and regular life stuff. How on earth do I manage it all?

That's where the idea of the chest of drawers comes in. One thing I seem to be quite good at doing is organising these projects and finding a drawer I can stuff each one into. Whenever I need to, I can open that draw, ferret a little to find what I need, and get on with doing what I need to do. Then, when I'm done, I can close the drawer again, completely switching off anything relating to that project, and leaving me ready to open another drawer and get on with something else.

And my chest of drawers is even more sophisticated than that. It's divided into clearly-marked sections - work, writing, home. When I get into work, I switch over to the work section, so I can easily access all those work related drawers. But once I'm out of the office, that work section gets closed off and thrust into the background, so I can focus on other things.

Similarly so for the writing folders. They're front and centre when I'm home and sitting at my computer, but I make sure to put them away so they don't distract me at work (actually I suspect that's not really true - I think they're always accessible to some degree, whatever I'm doing - but that's what being a writer is all about). And whichever story I'm working on, I usually seem to be able to focus on that one alone while keeping the other ones at the back of my mind, ready for their moment in the sun.

So there you see it. My brain truly is a chest of drawers. Sometimes it doesn't work as well as I'd like. Sometimes, the drawers get stuck and I can't seem to get access to the things I need. And sometimes I misplace a drawer completely. But generally, it seems to manage itself, enabling me to chuff forward with all the things I need to do. 


  1. In my next novel, the next I plan on publishing (it was the third written), I have a line: “Writers don’t have real lives, they have ongoing research.” It’s a line that’s always pleased me because it’s so true. Try as we might to compartmentalise—i.e. stick things in drawers—we (at least I) can’t. No matter what I’m doing or who I’m with a part of my subconscious is mulling away. This gives me a slightly distracted air at times as if I’m not giving things my full attention. Which is not true. It’s just the kinds of attention I give to a thing aren’t always apparent. Everything I see and do goes through a filter that asks: Is this useful to me as a writer? Most of it isn’t to be honest but as it’s the weirdest things that pique my interest everything has to be screened. I have stopped work—when I had a day job to worry about—to write down an idea or draft a poem. Hell, I even stopped having sex once to write down an idea so that I could concentrate on the task in hand. But that’s me. There’s no right way to be a writer and believe you me there are times I wished I could switch him off but mostly not. Because a writer is who I am. All the other stuff are things I do. And that’s the difference.

    1. Hi Jim. I often have a distracted air when I speak to people - but I think that's mainly because I'm easily distracted.