Work Ethic

This interview with Tim Lott in The Guardian about his writing day resonates quite strongly with my own experience, although I still get marginally stressed out because I'm not pounding out scintillating prose from dawn to dusk. Like Tim Lott, I don't really average more than a couple of hours a day of writing when I'm actively working, particularly on an early draft. Sometimes I get crazy/busy, usually on the run up to a deadline. I had a last minute marathon working on River of Light that saw me write six thousand words in one day, but that's very, very unusual for me. Usually, when I hit  two thousand, something just goes 'pop' in my head and more words refuse to emerge. But I'd been working towards those last six thousand words for a long time. I knew exactly what was going to happen, and it moves at a pretty brisk speed, so I kept up the momentum. But like I say, not a typical day.

I can't remember where I read it or who exactly said it - it might have been Nick Mamatas, perhaps on his blog - but fretting about not having done 'enough' writing each day is just the part of your mind formed by the Protestant work ethic that thinks if you're not constantly slaving away, then you're not really doing your job. Which is, of course, untrue. It doesn't matter how long it takes you to do the work. It's the quality of the work that matters, regardless of whether it takes you an hour or half a day. It's worth remembering that Stephen King, one of the most prolific authors of our day, reputedly works only four hours a day.

1 comment:

Paul Cockburn said...

Since going freelance the best part of two years ago, I've realised that I can't work without a deadline - ideally one that's externally imposed by a client because, frankly, any self-given deadline is wishywashy and I'm a terribly soft boss when it comes to that sort of thing. I'm proud of the fact that I seldom ever miss a deadline - and on the few occasions this last year when it looked like I was about to, I've been able to renegotiate the commission/deadline.

Writing an article on the day is due is not something I find particularly stressful (though it's possible my blood pressure might suggest otherwise). What I do find stressful, though, is the time in-between the looming deadlines; the days I spend not doing much and feeling guilty about procrastinating (spending hours "researching" on YouTube, cleaning the bathroom, that sort of thing). I know I should be working; that it'd be sensible to get work in early, or to have more time for revision, but I just can't get myself motivated to do it. And then I feel guilty about that. That, I guess, is where my own experience of the Protestant Work Ethic comes in.

Of course, the reality is that it's not the time you put in, it's what you put into the time. OK, so I sometimes spend an entire month not writing a review of a book I've read, but I guess I am (at some level) thinking about it. At least, that's what I tell myself on those slow days.