I struggle to make time during the working day to read

Sometimes people say to me, hey don’t you do that thing where you turn off the internet so you can work? To which I am forced to say, "No, I used to, but I don’t anymore."

Just outgrew it I suppose. The problem is actually that I got a really big iPad that doesn’t fit into the lockboxx I was using to lock up my devices. Also, now that I have a baby, it doesn’t make sense to lock up my cell. What if I need to google something like "Are nontoxic crayons actually toxic?" or "What is that really loud screaming on Bernal Hill?" Can’t do it. Can’t be sans internet.

What I have done however is that I identified that one major source of stress and distraction was constantly checking for business emails: acceptances, news about manuscripts, responses from agents, etc. And I now have a personal email and a business email, and I only check my business email at 9 AM and at 3 PM each day (I am only logged into it from my laptop), which covers, essentially, the beginning and the end of the New York business day.

But really, that’s about it. I also don’t have the strongest productivity standards anymore. I don’t track my word-count or even have set goals for what I am going to do each day. Like right now I’ve gotten comments back on my YA book and am thinking of a direction for edits, but it’s mostly conceptual. I’m working on an essay re book club discussions (and why they’re often so short and unsatisfying). And I’ve got a few other things cooking, but you know how it is.

Hegel would say that initially I worked to tame procrastination, but then I realized that procrastination is an essential part of the process, so I sublated it, negating the aspect of my anti-procrastination routine that was actually harming me, and now I have a broader concept of work which incorporates what I used to think of as work and what I used to think of as procrastination.

Actually what he’d probably say is why is that man dressed as a woman. Stupid Hegel. You know you could’ve written all this stuff more clearly! You know you could’ve done it!

Anyway, yes I am still reading Hegel. I’ve actually come to believe that reading is by far the more important part of working. One writes in order to write and to produce and to make one’s mark on the world, but generally speaking, at least when they’re at my stage of their careers, writers write too much and read too little.

There are solid reasons for this. A friend who is in the film business has been talking about the golden handcuffs: when you want to be in a more creative job category, but the money you’re making in post-production or script supervision or whatever is just too good and you can’t afford to start over. Writers get to a stage where they are being rewarded too well for doing what they do. Like, right now thrillers and dystopias are both making a comeback in YA. It would be a really good career move for me to write a dystopian trans girl thriller and sell it to a different publisher for more money. Instead I’m reading Hegel. It doesn’t really make sense.

But at the same time, to have a career you need to grow and improve. You need to undertake new things and new aims. For instance, my science fiction has really been reinvigorated by my recent reading, and I’ve written some really cool sci-fi stories. You don’t get paid for that right away, but that comes back to you later, and people are like, wow, this person kept improving.

If I was to make a really facile Marxist-style critique of the publishing industry, I’d say that it actively incentivizes a lack of growth (by providing financial incentives to stay in your own lane) and then ultimately it punishes you for not growing (they just write the same old stuff). And then on the flip side, it continually asks you to write things that are new and different, and then calls those things unpublishable. It asks you to do the work, for free, of integrating your fresh ideas with the market, and then it acts like it’s doing you a favor by publishing them.

But how could it be different? I mean don’t get me wrong, it would be great to have a union, so writers would be treated better and paid more fairly, but they have unions in Hollywood and they still have this same punishing feeling of being sucked dry. There is just something fundamentally difficult about trying to make money off of creativity. It’s like trying to make money off of sports–most people earn a living doing stuff where an average effort and average outcome is more than good enough–but artists and athletes need to be consistently exceptional. So what can you do? I mean, the solution, as with everything, is to have a better publishing industry, yes, but mostly to have a better society: one where failure doesn’t seem so punishing, where there aren’t such inequalities of wealth and access, and where more people have more leisure time, across the board, regardless of their work, to things like becoming better writers and thinkers.

I think once we expected things like Kickstarters and Patreons to provide a more flexible income for writers, but if anything, these seem even more likely to disincentivize improvement. Like is anyone really gonna pay into a Patreon for ten years while a writer reads Hegel and thinks up their next big idea? No. When you pay into a Patreon you expect regular content, not so much as a reward, but simply as proof that the writer is working. So, if anything, by tying the writer so directly to their audience’s expectations, Patreon disincentivizes growth even more than a big corporate structure does.

Luckily I am not in charge of fixing the world. But all I can say is, I devote some of the working day to reading. And it’s hard. And I often find it difficult to concentrate. And I sometimes have to make myself not write, purely so I can read. But I know that ultimately the reading is more what I need to be doing.

2 thoughts on “I struggle to make time during the working day to read

  1. rrhersh

    Word count productivity goals seem to me only really adapted to certain sorts of writing. They make sense if you are writing self-published commercial genre fiction, putting out a half dozen books per year. This is the modern equivalent of penny-a-word pulp fiction, which has always been about maintaining a high production rate. The book I am writing, on early baseball history, is pretty much the opposite. The challenge is to get in a lot of information as compactly as possible. It is all about getting the organization right, to present the information in a coherent way in a manageable length. This leads to procrastination. I have no production goals. If I write two pages in one day, that is a productive day. I have learned that if I don’t get those two pages done, it is because I wasn’t ready to write them. I need to spend more time mulling over how to organize the information.

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