Letter 35: September 1, 2008
Happy US Labor Day!
I mentioned Parkinson’s Law in the Today I Write blog a few years back and I'd like to mention it again now in more or less the same words. I’m not sure how well-known the law is to Americans or to you young people (creak) so let me “remind” you that the law is that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.
Northcote Parkinson’s essay on the subject may be the first place where I heard about writer’s block. But let me say that more exactly.
Northcote Parkinson’s humorous article in a humorous magazine may be the first place where I realized that procrastination could be discussed in a pseudo-scientific way. The first place where I realized that one's own puzzling behavior is sometimes no more than an example of a general principle. And that made me feel better.
But there is a downside to generalization. It allows ideas like "procrastination" and “writer’s block” to be conjured into existence.
These days, I often meet people who are worried because they procrastinate. And I say, "can you think of someone who doesn't?" And that usually stops them cold. Because we are in fact all human, and we are nothing more.
Instead of saying “I don’t feel like writing this morning” you may say “I’ve caught a disease, I've heard of this disease before and I know it has crippled a lot of other writers, so now I guess writing is going to be difficult or impossible for the rest of my life.” And then you are the victim not of a disease but of an idea in your head.
Here’s Parkinson’s opening statement in support of the claim that work expands to fill the time available. If you're in a hurry go to the final sentence:
“General recognition of this fact is shown in the proverbial phrase ‘It is the busiest man who has time to spare.’ Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and dispatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis. An hour will be spent finding the postcard, another in hunting for spectacles, half an hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an umbrella when going to the pillar box in the next street. The total effort that would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety, and toil.”
Exactly. You've heard of people who take six months off work to write their novels, and then do nothing? For some folks the six month plan just doesn't work. If you want to get a job done, give it to a busy person.
Something you can try today: To get more done, take more on (if that doesn't work for you, then to get more done, reduce your load; as always, there are choices; there is no expensive patented Today I Write System; and please make the choice that works in your life).
David Jung McGarva
+1 (818) 707 1871
Write me: david at todayiwrite dot com
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