How Much

The questions I’m tormenting myself with at the moment are: “How much is too much?” and “How much is enough?”

“A word count, a page count–it’s so arbitrary,” one writer told me last week over her historical fiction novel. “And if I don’t meet it, I feel miserable. Why would I do that to myself?”

Just work every day.

I hear it again and again. From dancers, choreographers, novelists, musicians. Every day.

But what counts as “work”? And how much work is enough?

It’s a challenge we all face–when to bring work home, when to stay up late finishing a project. And when to shut off the light and call it a day.

Partly it’s cultural. I remember 15 years ago, an exchange student from Spain caught me working on my homework during lunch. “No,” he said and clapped his hands over my page of matrices (he was like that). “This is no work time. This is time to be relaxing. Yes, close your book. You no work during lunch now.”

Europeans know what to do with their downtime. But Americans? Not so much.

Partly, too, it’s circumstantial. It’s harder to notice a lack of balance when there’s no family making demands on my time. I could spend all night at my desk, every night. Only leaving enough spare time for sleep and eating. Sometimes I do. Often I want to.

But is that dedication or addiction?

In an earlier post, I wrote that lines are inventions. Convenient fictions. But sometimes, we need them. And where we place them depends so much on our temperament and experience of life. And to others, one person’s line may look arbitrary. But for that individual, it’s the Golden Rule.

One thing in common among career artists is that they each stick to their definitions of “work”–and they follow-through with that definition every day. It’s a process of trial-and-error, sure. But if you keep trying–every day–you find it.

“Bum glue,” Elizabeth George calls it in her book on writing, Write Away.

“I’m a writer.” Jack Remick shrugged and said to me.

“Just play,” Amy O said. “Just try things.”

All the vaguest definitions of “work” I could ask for.

But that’s the point. When it comes to art, the right balance is all about how the individual works best.

As long as she or he works. Every. Damn. Day.

Lunchtime outlining

Published by M.C. Easton

Novelist and teacher.

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