Tim Walker’s Mental Fatigue

Recently I undertook a writing task of decidedly epic proportions.

In past years I found it rather an enjoyable challenge to churn out an 80 000 word novel in 40 days; I used to find it all the more enjoyable to revel in, and often brag about, the implication of what an exceptional writer that made me. Huh.

I applied for a job with an online company requiring 80 unique, automotive themed articles to be written, complete with my inherent New Zealand flavour. At the time of application I didn’t bother to inquire into any specifics of the position – as a novice Proofreader cum Editor cum Writer cum Whatever the Hell May; also a NZ raised former diesel mechanic, I just thought it looked like a pretty cool job. Moreover, I thought it sounded as if it lay within my capabilities. So yeah. I applied for it. As expected, my application was readily accepted.

It was only later, once the job had been set up via telephone; once I had talked myself up to the point of combustion; once the six day deadline had been set, the conversation terminated and the initial exuberance of landing my first Freelancing position dissipated, that I realised what I had done.

80 articles of 4-500 words to be written in under a week..? I almost cried. There seemed no possible way that I could pull off such a feat, meaning that I was going to miss my debut deadline. Failure appeared an inevitability. In an attempt to pull myself back into the game I quickly did the math on it. 80 400 word articles – which was more like 82 – to be tapped out with the first 3 digits of my right hand, in just 6 days. 10 by 6 is 60. 11 by 6 is 66. 12 by 6 is 72. 13 by 6 is 78. 14 by 6 is 84. Based upon that logic, I set the schedule at 15 per day. All going to plan this would give me 75 at the close of day 5, therefore only 7 to do on day 6. As I could appreciate that the chances of my maintaining such a gargantuan workload were slim, I was pleased to implement a schedule which gave me a leeway of 8.

That was the maths. In reality it did nothing to mitigate the tempest that was brewing in my mind other than to occupy it with something else for a few minutes. So I went to bed. That was at barely eight and a half.

5am I was stationed at my computer, frost on the grass outside; woolly hat, Swanndri, Stubbies and slippers on me inside, along with a mug of green tea and bowl of steaming porridge on the tray to my left. My three digits were frozen stiff; yet somehow I had knocked off three by eight, four by nine and five by ten. That gave me the confidence and set the benchmark – five by ten. Regular exercise breaks ensued, as did food breaks; I was ravenous all day and try as I might, I could do nothing to assuage the hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach…

It was then that I realised the feeling was nerves.

By 5pm – having written more or less solidly all day – 17 uniquely written articles had been saved.

That evening was a virtual replay. Eat, watch news and one other show; bed by eight and a half. Started again by five the next morning. Taxing, gruelling, mind-numbing behaviour.

By the end of day two, 30 had been saved.

End of day three however, I had slipped. Only 43 articles filled the job folder. I panicked. My mind was mush. 43 was all I could do but it meant that I was behind schedule. I stood up and walked out to the kitchen in the hunt of real food – food that wasn’t nuts. I felt awful; if I accepted dropping two today, by how many was I going to be behind tomorrow? The thought made me nauseas. It was my childhood nightmare becoming reality.

Too Much. That was the nightmare. Being inundated by a workload. Falling behind then never being able to catch up because the more I did, the more that I had to do.

I was in bed shortly after 7 that night. I awoke at 4am. I felt pretty good. The confidence had returned. I stood up, dressed, made breakfast, and started work. Either the article topics had become easier or overnight I had become smarter, because I was breezing through them – at least that was the way it felt. I checked the clock. 10am. I checked My Documents. I had written five articles. No better than any other. No worse though.

End of day four, 57.

End of day five, 71.

That night I was too excited to sleep. I had 11 to write the next day. I was going to do it. I was going to meet the seemingly un-meet-able deadline. Some time after 10pm I drifted into a restless sleep, waking at midnight and every two hours thereafter, until rising at four. Despite the knowledge that I had almost surmounted the insurmountable mountain, I felt panicked. On account of this the first couple of articles didn’t flow and required a lot of belated attention but by midday, I could smell it. By one, excitement had overtaken any fatigue. By two, I started to appreciate that if the challenge had been a day longer, simply, I would not have made it.

By three, not only was I finished, nor could I see straight.

The next day I unnecessarily rose at 5am, turned on the computer, prepared my breakfast, pulled on my Swanny and hat, and sat at the computer, in the dark, with nothing to do but revel in the accomplishment that had effectively fried my brain.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Celia Indi Tay-King

Photography by Fah Tua Motch

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