Many years ago, I was helping an ex-girlfriend (those of you who know me well can readily guess who I’m talking about) to type up her final college dissertation. I’m quite a fast typist to this day, and was certainly one of the faster typists in my circle of friends at the time, and as she was struggling to get it done on time (and probably in some pathetic attempt to make her re-consider my ex- status; I hadn’t grown a spine or self-respect at that point in my life), I offered to help out.

Helping out involved not only typing in the contents of the dissertation, but also staying late into the night (well, the early morning really) and helping her move great chunks of text around in order to restructure the work to increase its comprehensibility (it was an English Literature dissertation, so I’ll leave you to make your own remark about whether that effort meant I was inherently on a hiding to nothing). Anyway, this meant I was there until about 3am, by which point my eyes were stinging with screen burn, my hands were aching, and of course, I was tired (never a good thing for me; my judgment goes wonky when I’m excessively tired or hungry). I said we should stop and take a break – get a cup of tea, or whatever – but she insisted we ploughed on.

It’s a dilemma you often come across in work situations, I find: you have to get X done by a set time, and you’ve been slogging at it as the deadline approaches, but you really fancy a cup of tea or coffee or a biccie or similar, but that’ll take ten mins and you really don’t have the time. What to do?

The answer, simply, is: For God’s Sake, Take A Break. Take ten minutes away from whatever it is that’s eating your time (and very possibly your mind), and you will work far better afterwards. A cup of tea, a nap, a visit to the loo, or just staring out of the window can be just the thing to pep you up a bit, and that’ll mean that the work you do thereafter will be much better. In fact, in the same way that I maintain that if you’re thinking about staying up all night, your thought processes are clearly frazzled and you ought to go to bed, I’d say that if you’re unsure if you should just ‘power through’ and try to meet that deadline, the answer is almost certainly no.

All this came to my mind because I’ve been working quite hard the past few days (hence the absence of posting) to make sure that my entry for the Red Planet Prize is ready for the start of October. But on Wednesday morning I was feeling (in much the same way that I’d been concerned my characters are spending too much time in one location) that I’d been spending too much time in the minor details of the story and was losing sight of the overall arc of it, and so I decided to take the evening off.

Lo and behold, when I clicked the Red Planet site on Thursday morning to see if there was any news on the competition, there was a note there (see previous link above) saying about how they’d be contacting people in mid-October. So as well as feeling better about the screenplay, I have a couple of extra weeks to fine-tune, polish and tweak it, should they want to see more.

Incidentally, the ex- got a very good mark for her dissertation, and when I said something like “I like to think my contribution played a small part in that”, she denied that I’d been involved at all in it, the ungrateful wretch. Still, we all know what happens to people who are rude on their way up, don’t we?