Saturday, June 30, 2007

Finding Time to Blog: A Guest Editorial

Humorist Robert Benchley had been dead for decades before I began reading him, and most of the essays he wrote were from the 1920s and 1930s, long before his death. Unlike his best friend Dorothy Parker--who was hilarious but full of venom--Benchley was generous and self-deprecating, and was the first essayist to goof around, Lewis-Carroll-style, with language for its own sake.

For example:

It's amazing we've come as far as we have...or have we?

Or, his old, oft-quoted, seldom-attributed:

There's two kinds of people in the world: people who divide people into two classes, and people who don't.

Benchley had a powerful effect on my preadolescent mind, which has remained, possibly for that reason, rather preadolescent. Despite his silliness, his essays often contained deep truths. Or, at any rate, so it seems to my admittedly damaged brain.

But why am I telling you this? For a very simple reason. Several people have asked me how I find the time to blog. The first answer is that although I write fiction very slowly indeed, I write most of these blogs at a pretty good pace, because I consider them to be not essays, but letters to friends. The second, and more important answer is found in the opening of a magazine essay by Benchley, and I'm going to step aside and let old Bob answer for me. Ladies and Gentlemen, from his article How To Get Things Done...Robert Benchley:


A great many people have come up to me and asked me how I manage to get so much work done and still keep looking so dissipated. My answer is, “Don’t you wish you knew?” and a pretty good answer it is when you consider that nine times out of ten I didn’t hear the original question.

But the fact remains that hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country are wondering how I have time to do all my painting, engineering, and philanthropic work when, according to the rotogravure sections and society notes I spend all my time riding to hounds, going to fancy-dress balls dressed as Louis XIV or spelling out GREETINGS TO CALIFORNIA in formation with three thousand Los Angeles school children. “All work and all play,” they say.

The secret of my incredible energy and efficiency in getting work done is a simple one. I have based it very deliberately on a well-known psychological principle and I have refined it so that it is now almost too refined. I shall have to begin coarsening it up again pretty soon.

The psychological principle is this: anyone can do any amount of work, provided that it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.


The article goes on, describing this system in practice, but what he's said there pretty much covers my entire working philosophy. Blog when you ought to be writing your novel or doing your day job or spending time with your family or mopping the floor or getting some exercise, and it will come with incredible efficiency. Similarly, if you are stealing time to write your novel, your imagination will kick into high gear.

Chekhov, who was a physician, once said that medicine was his wife but writing was his mistress. I believe this is why, when so many writers get their wish, and their job becomes writing, they dry up. As Benchley says, when it's what you're supposed to be doing, it loses some of its allure.

The trick is getting your priorities straight--but not in the way most people think. Tell yourself that writing, blogging, etc. are low-priority tasks in your life that are undermining your career, family, and health, and I guarantee they will develop an irresistable draw.

That's how I blog. Right now there's a dozen other things I really need to do.

There's always time to squeeze in something that's bad for you.


May said...


"There's always time to squeeze in something that makes you feel alive"

David Isaak said...

Hi, May. Yes, 'makes you feel alive' would be the same thing (without my liberal dusting of cynicism).

Neil said...

Amen to all that.

I have been doing anything but work on this bo-oring spreadsheet today. Hence this comment. ;)

David Isaak said...

Hiya, Neil.

Yep, not working on spreadsheets is a guaranteed way to get some blogging done.

I find not cleaning the house to work quite well, too.

Sam Taylor said...

Wow. This is something that I've always thought, but never been able to express. :)

I shall have to read some Robert Benchley. After I finish reading the otehr 20 books I've started reading.

Ooh. Wait. Maybe I can sneak in some Robert Benchley when I'm supposed to be reading something else! ;)

David Isaak said...

Ah, The Force is strong in this one!

You're obviously a natural.