People often ask me how I manage to get so much done, how I can be so prolific. So by way of introduction, I thought I’d give a slice-by-slice pen-portrait of my day’s activities, which are as representative and unrepresentative as any writer’s.
I had a 9:30 meeting at a coffee shop with a colleague to plan the next 12-18 months of activities in the writing program I direct, so of course I got there 45 minutes early and wrestled with a chapter of First Time Publisher, due to be published on or around January 1, 2015.
Meeting over, I went off for a haircut, taking my laptop as always so I could work on something while I waited. A great advantage of coming of age in the Seventies is that I don’t regard haircuts as a necessity, but today’s came with an unexpected bonus or two. My cutter Piero told me he was interested in commissioning an Endangered Alphabets carving for his home. I was delighted, of course, but then he went on to introduce me to the owner of the salon, a great wood lover, who may want me to make some pieces for his salons, and even display some of my work in the window for sale. Haircuts don’t get any better.
Back at home, I got an email containing a sound file, from a singer whom I’m going to be accompanying on guitar at a wedding in early August. Spent a few minutes playing along with it, rearranging my arrangement.
Being English, it was then time for a cup of tea and a biscuit. Exchanged emails with advanced students of mine who are cutting their editing teeth by reading and commenting on the manuscript of The Ghosts of Good Intentions, which I’m hoping to have out in December.
Right now, though, my favorite way of spending time is carving. As the heavy rain started outside–I love the sound of rain–I finished carving and painting the classical Vietnamese character for “sleep,” which will be the center panel for a headboard I’m co-designing with local woodworker Tim Peters as the next item in my line of Endangered Alphabets furniture. Photo available on request.
More tea, of course, then time to update some social media and advise a graduate from my program who has just self-published her first novel. And then, of course, to write this post.
To go back to the original question, then, I’d make four points.
One: nothing spurs productivity like desperation. Having spent formative years as a daily journalist, I got accustomed to working fast because I had to.
Two: I have time because I don’t watch TV. True, I’m a Sherlock fan, but I watch it on Netflix at my convenience and without commercials. TV not only rots your character, it also steals your life.
Three: I’m a great believer in the proposition that everyone has a mind whose mansion has many rooms. It’s not only hard to work on any one thing for more than 45 minutes, it’s unnatural. Do one activity until you lose interest, then do something else. Stay fresh.
Four: the life is the work, and the work is the life. My carving constantly enlarges my horizons and gives material for the next edition of my Endangered Alphabets book; writing the book generates a source of income but also makes me a more interesting person. Likewise, playing the guitar led to my writing Guitar: An American Life, which in turn introduced me to a lot more music, musicians, and opportunities to play.
The upshot is that I don’t see myself as productive or prolific–I see myself as never bored.
Just as well. I hate boredom more than anything.