How much time is enough?

Today is the last day of my “forced solitude” — staying home on doctor’s orders so I don’t collect any more germs and come down with something worse than pneumonia. It has been an interesting five days. By interesting, I mean frustrating and boring as hell. I was told to stay home and do nothing, and that’s exactly what I did. Nothing. 

Part of the reason is that I truly have been quite sick and haven’t felt like doing anything, other than sleep and read a bit. I’m convinced I got sick because I’d worn myself out to the point of exhaustion and my body decided enough was enough. Figured a little helping of pneumonia with a side of pleurisy [har] would get my attention and slow me down. Wow, did it ever. I haven’t even had the energy to write. Does that sound silly? Really, how demanding could it be to just sit there and write? Believe me, it takes a huge amount of mental energy to write. And I had none left. 

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But I did have long stretches of quiet time to just think. One of the things I pondered, obviously, is what it would be like if I didn’t have to go to a day job five days a week. What would I do if I didn’t “have to” do anything? I’m not sure I like the answer. Because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do anything. I think my so-called productivity — whether with regard to writing or housekeeping or anything else — would plummet to near zero. Yes, I am proof of the theory that a body at rest never leaves the house at all. 

And then I read a fascinating article about the two brothers, Lars and Jens Rasmussen, who several years ago came up with the idea for Google Maps and who have now created something called Google Wave. I’m undecided in what I think about Wave, not because I’m skeptical so much as I don’t really understand it. Sounds like the kind of thing you’d have to see and use before you “got it.” Not sure I like the idea of a recipient being able to watch live as I type each letter in a message, but I’d love a chance to play around with it. 

What fascinated me is the conviction the brothers held about why they were successful and innovative. It had to do with the fact that they were unemployed and almost penniless and their very survival depended on coming up with something big (Maps). The risk they faced at the time was huge. They so strongly believed this was critical to their creative process, they tried to create a similar situation of high risk while they were developing Wave. Really, read the article. 

It made me wonder about creativity and pressure and whether the image of the struggling suffering artist is more a necessary condition than just a romantic icon. If a person is comfortable and satisfied, has all the time in the world and is free from stress, will they still be as creative? As productive? I suspect, in my case at least (if the past five days are any indication), the answer might be “no.” 

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Now I’m not saying it’s necessary to drive oneself to the point of exhaustion and illness, and I’ll try not to do that again anytime soon. Pneumonia is just not as much fun as people are always making it out to be. But I’m going to stop complaining about the financial necessity of the day job, and having to get up early on the weekend to let The Wonder Dog out, and having to write in short chunks of time or having to write rather than sleep in the wee hours when it’s finally quiet. I’m going to learn to appreciate the demands on my time and welcome them as a driving force of creative productivity. Well, I’m going to try. 

I know it’s a contrary idea. Then again, I’m a rather contrary person and it might not hold true for others. But if I had more time in which to do it, I’m not sure I’d get anything done.

5 Comments

Filed under creativity, deep thoughts, health and well-being, writing

5 responses to “How much time is enough?

  1. Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

    I disagree because I want to, yet I’m living proof that you’re right. My day job laid me off on September 15, and I’ve rather randomly split my time among looking for a job, being a househusband, gardening and puttering, and not writing. My wife, who earns enough to keep us afloat (with the water line right at the gunwales), even gave me permission to “just write.” And I’m damned if I can do it. I don’t even have pneumonia as an excuse.

    Now, to give myself a little credit, I have been writing, just not in a highly productive way. I’m editing a WIP to, my mental argument goes, get the story straight before I write the climax and ending. And I’m writing flash scenes and such that ultimately become my blog posts. But it’s not like I’m tearing up the place. Back when I had to cram writing into the tiny little places you mention — early in the morning, scribbled at lunch, etc. — I cranked out far more words per day.

    It’s kind of a debilitating feeling. Maybe I’m not a “real” writer, just a dabbler. If I ever did, say, pick up a book contract and quit my job, would I fail? It ain’t a pretty thought.

    I hope you feel better. I’ve had pneumonia before, and I can testify that it sucks.

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  2. Glad you’re feeling better, I’ve had some kind of crub for over a week now and, frankly, I’m a little tired of it.

    So, as a person who is underemployed, ie I work whenever I damn well feel like it, I’ve found that when I have all the time in the world to finish or tweek a project I don’t do anything, but when I have a deadline, I knuckle down and hit the ground hard.

    So, being underemployed, do I get more writing done because I have la-de-da to do all day so I roll out of bed and jump into my writin’ chair? Nope. Because the wolves are at the door and if I don’t write/sell something we’ll starve? Nope, (thankfully) but I have always worked better under pressure, something I’ve known about myself since high school, when I carried a ream of paper and a portable typewriter in the trunk of my car and sat in the parking lot at school typing my homework before the bell rang.

    So job/no job, if you make yourself write you will write. And just to clear up a misconception, even when you don’t “have to” do anything, you still have things you have to do. And 99% of them will have to be done at the least convenient time.

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  3. Here I was kind of hoping for dissent. This isn’t really something I want to be right about, because who doesn’t dream of someday being able to quit the day job to write full-time. Maybe time itself isn’t the factor, but the pressure of outside forces. I always work better under a deadline too, and usually leave things to the last minute when I feel compelled to finish NOW. I’ve tried to set writing deadlines for myself and it doesn’t work. I know they’re not real.

    Jeff, I’m sorry to hear about the lay-off. But you are definitely a real writer. Maybe a schedule would help? Set a block of time, even 30 minutes, to do nothing else but work on your ms. And be strict — you can either work on the ms or do NOTHING. Pretty soon you’ll be so bored, working on the ms will seem like a treat. Maybe.

    SD, hope you get over the crud soon. Mine started out with a week or so of feeling sort of bad, but not really that bad. I’m wondering now whether it was a mild version of H1N1 — they say people over 30 might have very mild symptoms but can still have that develop into more serious complications.

    And see, I have all weekend to write and… I’m procrastinating. Time to take my own advice.

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  4. Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

    I’m attacking it more directly than that — I’m doing NaNoWriMo. Writing a short novel that’s been flitting around in my head for a while, something different from the historical fiction I’ve been writing (though I’ve still got an Anasazi element to it). I think maybe what happened is I just got kind of overwhelmed with the epic size of my historical novel. It’ll be a nice “vacation” to write something in modern times.

    I hope you’re back to 100 percent now or soon.

    Jeff

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  5. McB

    There’s a saying that if you want somehing to get done, give it to a busy person. And I’m the same way. My thinking is that we are wired to have a purpose: survival. But it’s too easy in modern times. It’s not a necessity to grow our own food, and few of us ‘put up’ to get through the winter. Now, anything like that is more of a hobby. When you have kids, things have to get done for their survival. When it’s just you, it’s a lot easier to cheat. So the very jobs we grouse about are really what keep us going.

    At work, I’m productivity itself. But I know myself; I could never earn a living working at home because there’s too much I’d rather being doing and it would be too easy to slide.

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