My Phd is in two parts: an exegesis and an historical novel. It often feels like I’m trying to write two books at once, books that while completely different are also inextricably linked. And sometimes I think my head is about to explode from juggling them both and that it would really be much easier if I had two heads like Zaphod Beeblebrox from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, because then I could devote one brain to the non-fiction exegesis and one brain to the novel.
(If you are unfamiliar with Zaphod, go check him out. He also has three arms, which also might come in handy (ha!). If I had a third arm I’d use it to hold the cup of tea that I invariably have beside me but forget to drink. Or chocolate. Or the trashy novels that I’ve taken to reading because at the moment the alternative always has me reaching for my pencil to jot down ideas or quotes. I just want to read, for God’s sake, without analysing every single word, and zombies and post apocalyptic novels fit the bill perfectly.)
(Apologies to anyone doing a Phd on zombies. If you need any more ideas please let me know.)
Alas, I only have the one head, which means I have to come up with a way to focus on two such distinct processes at the same time. The answer for me is to take turns, completely focusing on one and then letting that rest while I focus on the other.
This works, up to a point (actually there are both good and bad points but when you rely on cliched language you have to work with what you’ve got).
Immersion in one or the other means I can really sharpen my focus, which is useful because this is often difficult, given my other responsibilities (family, teaching, music, the cat etc). To have already decided my focus means it is easier to get started each day and means I make better use of the time I have allocated.
The downside can be that because the two parts are so linked I am continually jotting down ideas for one while focussing on the other. This can mean my focus becomes diffused and it can make it hard to keep track of everything. A further disadvantage is that after a longish period of working on one it can be difficult to re-engage with the other.
I’m sure if you got ten researchers in a room and asked them how they would handle this there would be ten different answers. It’s a little bit like being a parent, so many different ways of doing the same thing. You can read all the books you like and listen to as much advice as you want but in the end you have to work it out for yourself.
Perhaps the reason I like zombie fiction so much at the moment is because they don’t have a functioning brain, and therefore don’t have to think about any of this stuff.
Or much at all, really. Mmmm, brains….