Every now and then I find myself going down a literary rabbit hole on Wikipedia, reading pages of famous authors, learning random facts from their personal lives. Did you know that Terry Pratchett had his own Coat of Arms? Or that Ray Bradbury had four kids and had his headstone made before his death? Down at the bottom, there usually is a long list of everything they’ve published — books, short stories, essays. For the most well know authors, there’s often just a single entry — a reference to the full bibliography on a separate page. They produced more work than the encyclopaedia’s editors deem reasonable to fit a single page.
Stephen King, for instance, has three subpages covering his extensive body of work. I shake my head as I scroll down the list of titles. 61 novels, six non-fiction books and roughly 200 short stories? Roughly?
How the hell did he do it? And will I ever be able to do the same?
Unless there’s some sort of time-capsule device that allows the user to freeze everything around them to write that I haven’t been informed about? Seriously, if you know anything, tell me now cause I’ll be really mad to find out later. If not, then the answer is pretty simple. He just kept writing a story after story after story. If a short story took him ten days to complete on average, he spent 2000 days of his life writing those.
The math isn’t super complicated. That’s about 5.5 years of working on short stories every day. Perhaps he took a break here and there, you know, to fit in the other 61 novels. Maybe he only wrote one or two short stories every month. That would be about ten years of work. He put the time in.
Annie Dillard said, ‘How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.’ Another adage screams, ‘what you do is who you are.’
The choices that you’ll make today may seem insignificant and irrelevant to anything. But in reality, your future Wikipedia article is being written right now. What you do today will determine what will be in it.
I don’t mean that we should be obsessed with doing something productive every minute of your lives. That only leads to burnout and even less productivity in the long run. As with many other things in life, striking the right balance is the key.
Look at Stephen King. He started as a high school teacher and raised three children. He plays the guitar and probably spends way too much time on Twitter these days. He certainly didn’t spend all day every day writing stories.
The key to getting a lot done is avoiding drift — the time when you go months or years on autopilot, pouring the entirety of your free time habitually into pointless pursuits.
If you’re an artist, musician or writer, always be working on something. Keep spending your time consciously, and you’ll live the prolific life.
What I Am Reading
I found a pristine copy of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep at Oxfam today. It’s the novella Blade Runner was based on, and I was meaning to read it for ages. Now I will. Exciting times!
I still have a few pages of the Leonardo da Vinci biography left, though.
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