The New Yorker

Turning time into language

Anthony Trollope

Adam Gopnik’s story on Trollope in the New Yorker touches on

his very Victorian work ethic: he wrote for money, and he wrote to schedule, putting pen to paper from half past five to half past eight every morning and paying a servant an extra fee to roust him up with a cup of coffee. He made a record of exactly how much each of his novels had earned, and efficiency and economy, taken together, got him a reputation as a philistine drudge.

Trollope was, in truth, merely being practical about the problems of writing: three hours a day is all that’s needed to write successfully. Writing is turning time into language, and all good writers have an elaborate, fetishistic relationship to their working hours. Writers talking about time are like painters talking about unprimed canvas and pigments.

Not sure I agree with Gopnik’s three-hour rule. Three hours a day may have been enough for Anthony Trollope to write successfully, but you, alas, are not Anthony Trollope.

It is interesting to think of writing as “turning time into language.” Of course, Gopnik is not saying that’s all writing is. He is making a simpler point about Trollope’s practicality and discipline. (Otherwise the phrase is meaningless: all art forms can be reduced to “turning time into” something — sculpture, music, painting, etc.). Still, it is a useful formulation for writers to keep in mind. Looking back at these monstrously productive Victorians, it is easy for a writer to get psyched out. Better to use Trollope as a daily reminder to turn your time into text, and be done with him.

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The procrastination muse

A visit from the procrastination muse

Via

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Rainy Day

Rainy Day

Via

The original death of publishing

 

The New Yorker

The New Yorker

Categories: Books · Publishing    Tags: ·

James Surowiecki: Later

A theory of procrastination:

“… the person who makes plans and the person who fails to carry them out are not really the same person: they’re different parts of what the game theorist Thomas Schelling called ‘the divided self.’ Schelling proposes that we think of ourselves not as unified selves but as different beings, jostling, contending, and bargaining for control.… The idea of the divided self, though discomfiting to some, can be liberating in practical terms, because it encourages you to stop thinking about procrastination as something you can beat by just trying harder. Instead, we should rely on what Joseph Heath and Joel Anderson, in their essay in The Thief of Time, call ‘the extended will’ — external tools and techniques to help the parts of our selves that want to work. A classic illustration of the extended will at work is Ulysses’ decision to have his men bind him to the mast of his ship. Ulysses knows that when he hears the Sirens he will be too weak to resist steering the ship onto the rocks in pursuit of them, so he has his men bind him, thereby forcing him to adhere to his long-term aims.”

Anybody got a mast I can borrow for the next couple of weeks?