I stated that I was dedicating some weeks to do some physical labor, as opposed to what I usually do, which is write, read, edit, edit some more, read some more, and sit around dreaming. And go to lunch, every day.
I was successful. I tore down an old deck and hauled away the wood; cut down a large tree and hauled away the trunk and branches; and replaced an old window with a new window. This week will be another week of labor – replacing three more windows; cutting up old deck wood into woodstove-sized pieces; and preparing a house to be stuccoed.
In my evenings, surprising even me, I edited two new novels, submitting one to an editor, and went through a proof for a new Mogi Franklin mystery that will be published September first.
Woohoo! – I got to do both of the types of labor that I like to do and I did both of them well.
Which labor do I favor?
That’s a good question, because the answer is “both, provided I can choose to do whatever I want on any particular day.”
It’s an issue of competition. Declaring a certain time period to be dedicated to one type of labor or another, or, in fact, declaring a certain time period for family, for vacation, for helping others, for concentrated walks, for some other block of activity, is my way of decreasing the competition between the different forms of labor. It decreases the frustration associated with not doing something that I want to do because I’m doing something else.
I have the greatest admiration for those writers who get up in the morning two hours before the rest of the family so they can write. There are many stories of people who do so to have the peace and concentration they need to write. Or they go off for a week to write undisturbed. Or they write at night after the family is in bed.
In my case, it’s important to be able to choose. I’m a fair-weather type of laborer. I understand why people have to work outside when it’s very cold or very hot or very windy or very wet, but I’m sorry that the work requires it. I worked for a carpenter once who treated working in the worst weather possible as a badge of honor. He wanted it to rain hard just so he could bundle up in his rain gear and prove himself on the battlefield of labor.
He and I didn’t get along very well. I did the work, but I think rain in the morning is a sign to sleep late and rain in the afternoon is a sign to quit early.
Sometimes, I need to do literary work. Sometimes, I need to do physical labor. Sometimes, I need to do neither, contemplating instead all that I’m not doing. That was referred to by Hemingway as “taking time to store up for the times to come”, an attitude that I like. Of course, you’re saying, it’s because I’m a retired fat guy with a pension. I accept that as valid criticism; it is a significant advantage.
It makes it no less important, though, that writers and other artists must know themselves to be able to manage themselves, especially in terms of creativity, inspiration, pace, and balance. We all have work. The major thing is that we should have control over the work and not the work over us.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.