Madonna employs Madonna, and would Darwin have survived 60-hours workweek?
The three stories that I share this week are all inspired by creative fields, but has applications in professional work as well. Here they are:
If you struggle like I do to start a creative project, then a little, powerful book to read to nudge yourself to get going is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. This book is well known in creative circles, but I only picked it up last week. Pressfield mulls over the concept of ‘resistance’, which is this little nasty voice going on in the head that your art is not worthy, not truly creative and is taking time away from the ‘real’ art that you should be doing instead. An amateur is overly invested in his passion/art, whereas we should treat creative pursuits professionally. A professional shows up everyday, no matter what — just like the way we do at our day jobs, for which we get paid. Art should be treated no differently. ‘Madonna employs Madonna’, Pressfield writes to elaborate this point.
Reading about how to write will not make one a writer. Rather, direct practice, i.e. writing consistently combined with corrective feedback is the only way to learn. Still I can’t stop myself from reading books on how to write, and write well. Stephen King’s On Writing is perhaps one of the best on the topic, followed closely with Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which I wrapped up few days back. It’s a brilliantly funny book, and I recommend it for the humour and honesty that Lamott has effortlessly sieved in. I don’t think it will make anyone a better writer, however, there are a couple of good observations that I took away from it. For instance, writing motivates you to observe life closely while it rushes by. I reflected on this and realised that I remember those places more deeply on which I had intended to write a travel story afterwards. That intention sharpened my senses, and I observed my surroundings more closely than I would have otherwise. Another advice that I took away is how to get going on a big project. Simply put, it’s the age old advice of breaking down the bigger problem into smaller pieces and tackle them one after another. However, I liked the way Lamott puts it when she says that to start writing a big story — when you are overwhelmed by the scope of it — see it like a picture frame, and pick one stamp-size square of it and start describing it — one postage stamp after another, till the whole story conjures up.
After a long week in Geneva, while waiting for my flight back home, I stumbled across this piece on how working less and sleeping more could actually make us more productive. More hours at work do not necessarily mean more productivity, the article claims. It cites Darwin, Poincare, and Dickens — all prolific contributors in their fields — as having shorter work days than most would imagine. For instance, Darwin seemed to have worked for 3-4 hours a day, with the hardest thinking done in intense bursts in the mornings. Most creative figures organise their lives around work, but not their days. While most of these studies cite deep thinkers, especially scientists and writers, I wonder if some of these principles could be brought to professional work settings as well — for instance, meeting-free mornings for intense work on fewer, wildly important priorities.
A quote that I came across this week:
Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save: they just stand there shining.
— Anne Lamott