I want to take a moment to say thanks to SKM from Shakesville, who so thoughtfully includes me in the blogaround from time to time. I’m consistently shocked and flattered when I find out that such well-respected bloggers read this site and actually think enough of it to recommend it to others. The Shakesville blogaround has also introduced me to some other kick-ass feminist and academic bloggers, and I was thrilled to find out about this post by Maud Newton on the “tricky valuation of a writer’s time.” I was particularly struck by this quote from E.B. White:
[T]here is nothing harder to estimate than a writer’s time, nothing harder to keep track of. There are moments — moments of sustained creation — when his time is fairly valuable; and there are hours and hours when a writer’s time isn’t worth the paper he is not writing anything on.
This is a much more succinct and, I think, poignant statement than the many posts I’ve made on this subject. I am always fascinated and surprised when I learn about the writing processes of authors whose work I consider to be transcendent. On some level, I’ve long believed that they wrote effortlessly and continuously, never wanting for an idea. Of course, that isn’t true. I’ve been reading the Ron Powers biography of Mark Twain (who Maud credits as a source of inspiration), and while the guy obviously wrote prolifically, he also went through long periods where nothing got done. The well of inspiration would go dry, and the only solution was to set the project aside until the well filled up again (Twain used this actual metaphor).
Theodore Dreiser experienced the same problem. After the publication of Sister Carrie, it took almost ten years for him to complete another novel, and he nearly starved to death and had to resort to manual labor (for which he was completely unsuited) until he eventually got a job as an editor. Even as established and famous authors, both men regularly missed publisher’s deadlines and endured long periods of total unproductivity.
I’m not sure if that’s reassuring or depressing. At the very least, it perhaps points to the need to keep a day job.