The Valentimes: Brain fail

 
 

As friends and other assorted members of her Facebook feed announce summer plans, Aoife Valentine tries and fails to secure her own

I’m sure I’m not alone is the masses of UCD students in spending some time over Christmas trying to decide what to fill those four long summer month’s with. While the ideal would be one long holiday in the sunniest of destinations, it seems more likely that I will find myself at home for the majority of the summer break. Ideally this time would be filled with a job or an internship of some description, but it seems my brain is currently acting as my own worst enemy on that front. I can only assume it is in favour of the ‘constant holiday’ plan.

Working for the newspaper that is bringing you your fortnightly instalment of this column has done many things for my writing. Not only has my writing greatly improved from that first ill-fated CD review I wrote two years ago, but also as Deputy Editor, I no longer have time to ponder over what is the most perfect possible way to write whatever it is I have chosen to write. This applies broadly across all sections of the paper; as editorial staff are often called on to write very last minute articles to fill any of the empty spaces which routinely crop up when you rely on a network of unpaid students who have many more important commitments in their lives to attend to.

This time pressure, particularly as we approach the print deadline, means there is no period in which I can be too afraid to write something. When I first began writing, it could take me several days to write a 150-word piece, as I would fear that my opinion of an album from a band only their parents knew about, would be ‘wrong’. More than that though, I assumed that the sub-editors, much more knowledgeable about music than I, would think I was very silly indeed, and either chuck me out of the paper or laugh at my amateurish abilities to string sentences together that would even be close to acceptable for print. The former never happened, and presumably I got away lightly when it came to the latter, as I am still here, now in some cases the person whose opinion new contributors consider.

If I still had that fear, I would never get the chance to write a single article. If I bowed to my constant impulses not to write about anything I think is a good idea until I have the time to do it complete and proper justice, those ideas would forever remain unexpressed to the masses. A complete travesty, obviously.

I no longer struggle to come up with ideas for something to write about, even if sometimes I spend a few days vetoing out the boring ones before I settle on the one interesting enough to write about. It’s rare for me to start an article and realise when I’m almost complete that I took a wrong turn near the start and have now reached a dead end and need to scrap the entire thing. After realising that, by and large, the people who take the time to send me emails letting me know exactly how wrong I am are mostly completely bonkers and have too much time on their hands, I have stopped thinking about what those people might say or think upon reading what I’ve written. And while I used to agonise over the perfect way to phrase every sentence, for the most part now I can just trust that whatever spills out of my brain is probably in the correct order.

All of that aside, however, I still dread the start of an article. Even after filing hundreds of articles on every topic imaginable, the sight of a blank Word document is still a little scary. It’s not the writing generally that’s scary, just those first few tentative sentences where I have to not only decide the probable direction the article will eventually take, but set the tone so the rest makes sense. I’ll usually do anything possible to avoid the first paragraph, resorting to many of the procrastination techniques that I once thought were reserved solely for exam time.

I think it’s partly to do with the time constraints in this job. Most writing starts with a somewhat ropey first draft, that you can later edit and tidy into the article you imagined it to be in your head. Here, I only have one draft, and usually if an article starts off on the right foot, it will continue in the same vein until the end. This puts a lot of pressure on those first few sentences because if they don’t pull together nicely, the whole article will be scrapped.

Over Christmas, I had found an almost inconveniently perfect job that would occupy me for the summer, and my responsibilities wouldn’t stretch much further than doing exactly what I do with this column every fortnight, except I’d have to do it a little more regularly than that. The application simply involved writing an article by way of example of the type of thing they could expect from me, should they choose to give it to me.

Perhaps I was a little rusty as we had been on holiday from the paper for a number of weeks at that stage and I hadn’t written more than a Christmas card or two in that time, but the blank page psyched me out. I procrastinated so much and put it off for so long, that by the time I’d decided it was time to cop on and just put some words on a page, the application deadline had passed.

Perhaps it was a fear of failure, or a fear of imperfection, but either way, my brain failed me. We could have been paid well to do just what we do every issue here, but instead, now we have to look for another job. One that probably has more problems than being ‘inconveniently perfect’. We’ll probably even have to write about things we don’t care about at all.

It’s that or go back to retail. Nice work, brain.

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