March 7, 2010

"I need eight hours to get maybe 20 minutes of work done."

The life of a writer — in this case, David Eggers — is not easy:
... I used to write in the middle of the night. I suppose I was surprised by the sedentary nature of writing: like, wow, most of this is sitting down and typing! So I used to add a bit of adventure by starting at midnight and working until five. That was excitement! But now I have two kids... So it's bankers hours for me.

... Writing is a deep-sea dive. You need hours just to get into it: down, down, down. If you're called back to the surface every couple of minutes by an email, you can't ever get back down. I have a great friend who became a Twitterer and he says he hasn't written anything for a year....
Eggers denies himself internet access. That's what I would do if I really wanted to write a book. Which I guess I don't. I mean, I'm at the level where I (mostly) cut myself off from Twitter because I want to have a blog. What if I cut myself off from the internet for — let's say — the 4 months of summer break? The deep-sea dive. It would probably take me all 4 months just to get into into it.

Oddly, Eggers is motivated by his sense of how short life is. All that time getting going and thinking about how short life is? Oh, the pain. Blogging, by contrast, is the continual relief from that pain.

38 comments:

rhhardin said...

Commuting on a bicycle gives you a lot of thinking time, if you're working on something.

Bill White said...

"Writing is a deep-sea dive. You need hours just to get into it: down, down, down." - that's computer programming, too, at least for me. Which I suppose is a species of writing - I open a file with a definite problem to solve, and I start creating something out of nothing. Unless one of the kids needs wiped or the phone rings.

1jpb said...

Why not take the summer off? I'm sure that Meade and non-internet life will be plenty satisfying.

Trooper York said...

Or let Meade guest blog for a while. Hee.

Trooper York said...

Or you could just split it like a cheeseburger.

John Lynch said...

I write at least two pages every day, no matter what. It's hard not to finish if you keep writing.

Writing is the act of writing. It's just work, like everything else. What you write is more important than being a writer.

I also try to avoid wasting time on the internet.

Oops.

PWS said...

It's not really pain; that's reality.

Martha said...

Eggers: Writing is a deep-sea dive. You need hours just to get into it: down, down, down. If you're called back to the surface every couple of minutes by an email, you can't ever get back down.

I have the same problem doing my tax return. I need hours just to get into it----down, down, really down. And I need eight hours to get maybe 20 minutes of work done. I had always thought creative writing was not a painful exercise --certainly not as painful as doing/paying your income taxes.

edutcher said...

Ann said...

What if I cut myself off from the internet for — let's say — the 4 months of summer break?

You would subject the world to 4 months of Althouse withdrawl?

Cruel neutrality, indeed; more like sadistic.

WV "trizat" Barry's method for evaluating Bambicare.

Bob_R said...

I find starting first thing in the morning - 5 or 6 - is good is good for me. From dreams to mathematics. No internet before noon. I don't do that most of the year, but when I can dedicate a long stretch to writing it works well.

Class factotum said...

certainly not as painful as doing/paying your income taxes.

It would be easier just to slice open my veins and let the IRS suck out what they want than it is to do taxes. And that's using TurboTax. With organized records. And top grades in my accounting and finance classes.

I get very cranky this time of year.

Ralph L said...

That's what I would do if I really wanted to write book
I believe the expression is "making book," and is that legal in Wisconsin?

Or were you writing in Tarzan?

Lem said...

I need eight hours just to read that column.

From Inwood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
From Inwood said...

Reminds me of when lawyers in private practice try to explain to the government why its estimate of "20-minutes-to complete-this government-form" is crap.

Oh, Oh, now I'll get TY started on lawyers.

Hey, TY:

How many lawyers & how many minutes does it take to eat an entire cheesecake?

Punchline: One lawyer; one minute: they're all sharks. Ha ha.

Trooper York said...

Lawyers and cheesecakes are very similar.

They should be kept on ice because if they are exposed to light they go bad. Immediately.

traditionalguy said...

So Trooper, how many days of intense mental preparation and creative insight does a lawyer have to put his mind thru to conduct a winning jury trial for you? And does it matter to you if he wins your case or loses it? Please tell me thatyou do not care, and then I can rest a lot easier from now on.

Penny said...

My favorite Eggers' quote from this article:

"... I feel like any point of intersection is valid."

He was speaking about people who came up to him, sharing that they too had lost a parent. They might not have had anything else in common, but that was a "point of intersection", and presumably, some shared common ground.

GREAT expression, "point of intersection".

PatCA said...

I agree totally about how the internet interferes with writing or any creative endeavor. The internet is gloriously interesting tidbits of knowledge at your fingertips--a seductive thief of time.

I disagree with him that his journal represents "excluded voices." Those po-mo, new left voices are actually the establishment of literature today. If he wanted to publish truly excluded voices, he would publish, say, an out and proud white male Christian.

Trooper York said...

Traditionalguy, he just has to figure out what juror to bribe. Or just which judge to steer the case to. It's simple really. He just figures that out and he can go back and put on his track shoes and hang out at the ambulance bay to get ready to find his next client.

traditionalguy said...

Trooper...LOL. Yes there is a need to steer cases away from certain judges who will not let a jury hear a case for phony reasons whih we then must reverse on appeal. When one of those former defence/Insurance industry attorneys comes up as judge when the case is filed,then we dismiss and refile in hope of avoiding the bad judge. Those bribes you mention must be a NYC custom. We have to try our cases in Atlanta with out the safeguard of bribes. It's not fair...but lots cheaper.

rhhardin said...

The new Yahoo-subcontracted @att.net webmail tailors ads to your mail.

All I get is online degree courses and the same reverse mortgage ad.

Creative writing has that effect.

Ann Althouse said...

"I agree totally about how the internet interferes with writing or any creative endeavor."

It's great for blogging!

themightypuck said...

So is the Professor going to liveblog the Oscars? I'm interested if a bit down that the best picture of the year (Moon) didn't get a nomination.

Trooper York said...

I knew three lawyers who were arrested for paying the clerk of the court to put their cases to the top of the docket in landlord tenant court. He paid them $1 per case.

You see in the criminal justice system in NYC, they are not just whores, they are cheap whores.

This is their story.

Law & Order, SOB

Lem said...

Are we live-blogging the Oscars?

PatCA said...

"It's great for blogging!"

Yes, for sure. :) I should have said, or any competing creative endeavor.

WestVirginiaRebel said...

I think there's a difference between creative writing and work writing-one feels like you're drowning, and the other doesn't and the time just flies by.

Writers are also told that they need to write all the time, which can be a tough habit to break when you get older.

Penny said...

Ann Althouse said...

"It's great for blogging!"

No doubt the internet is great for blogging. There WAS no "blogging" before the internet! lol

BUT...

Is the internet good for recognizing "points of intersection"?

Iapetus said...

I agree with Eggers, which is why, when I am working at home and trying to write a serious article or a grant proposal, I have to shut the door to my home office to avoid interruptions, even at the risk of upsetting my wife, who feels the need to inform me she is having chicken and rice soup for lunch.

From Inwood said...

traditional guy

Obviously TY doesn't know what he's talking about, tho he apparently wines & dines with what used to be called “The Court St Mob” (lawyers with offices on Court St in downtown Bklyn).

The rule as I understand it is "never steal anything small".

No lawyer would get anything for only $1. (A cheesecake from Junior’s or a turkey, maybe. Or a fifth (of Jameson's, not the Fifth Amendment))

And gratuities are usually in the form of Christmas gifts, not per case. You know like, you give a Christmas gift to your mailman so that if you live in 1234 Ave A, your mail doesn't keep winding up in 1234 Ave B. When I was in the USAR, long before Direct Deposit, I got a monthly pay check & the mailman kept ringing our apt house bell to personally deliver it, “lest it be lost”. He got an XMAS gift. The check was never lost.

In NYC politics it's called the favor bank, not bribery. And it's considered OK, within limits.

But the pols were expected to pay their income & property taxes. Apparently that's gone by. Have you seen the latest?

Newly anointed House Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin (D-Mich.) repaid a Maryland property-tax credit Friday that he should not have received, his office confirmed.

http://www.rollcall.com/news/43910-1.html

No honor among thieves!

Penny said...

Yeah, sure the internet is the "information highway", but when was the last time you drove down a LITERAL high speed thorofare and paid much attention to the "points of intersection"?

Face it. Most of us are on autopilot in the far left lane.

No need to remind anyone that we are all heading in the same direction as those we easily pass.

PatCA said...

Any work-at-homers have a strategy of internet rationing that works?

Largo said...

"Writing is a deep-sea dive. You need hours just to get into it: down, down, down." - that's computer programming, too, at least for me.

Bill,

Subversion and Extreme Programming. It allows me to do a lot of development in little steps. without requiring a lot of mental stacking (which would be lost by an interruption, and have to be rebuilt). As long as the programming is routine, at least.

When I am learning a new tool, or when I am online researching and comparing different ways of doing something, that is when I need to stay in the zone. I try not to do that when the family is around.

John Lynch said...

PatCa-

I simply have a minimum quota of work that has to be done every day. If you do something every day you can't help but finish eventually. Then I have some other rules, like I have to take a walk or do some other exercise. I have a set bed time and I don't eat after six.

After all that is done, internet is fine. I did stop going to certain sites that were big time-wasters. Thing is, no one cares much what I write into the ether. I try not to spend much time doing it.

I've gone back and forth about putting Althouse on my banned list, at least for leaving comments. It's the last place that I'm still doing it.

I'm a bit down on the idea that people have to be really "into" writing in order to do it. I've gotten to where I can write with all kinds of distractions, including my four year old son asking about what's for dinner.

The more that you demand perfect writing conditions the less often that happens and the less you get done. It's work. I've never worked anywhere where there haven't been lots of distractions.

Creative work is still work.

John Lynch said...

Oh, and set bed times don't always preclude waking up in the middle of the night.

Darnit.

ben said...

Your point here is more interesting than anything Eggers said.

Ken Mitchell said...

Jerry Pournelle, tech writer and science fiction author, calls his working desk "the monk's cell", a converted attic. No phone there, and only reference books for whatever novel he's writing. He clearly is talking about the same thing; you have to separate yourself from the rest of the world to get into your FICTIONAL world in order to write about it.