It’s Not the Days in Your Life but the Life in Your Days

What has surprised me about writing is just how exhausting it is.  When I was working, there was a general cadence to my day that was very non-taxing.  Going at half-speed, I was able to join conference calls, attend meetings, reply to emails, and write code.  It was, only seldom when working on a thorny programming challenge, that I would come anywhere close to spinning up my full mental repertoire.

But with writing, that’s been completely different.

Every day I sit down at my keyboard is fraught.  I’ve been trying a version of the Pomodoro Technique (but with one-hour sprints) which means each hour is similar to taking a standardized test like back in my schooldays.  The heart rate is raised, my palms are slightly sweaty, and there’s a constant underlying tension and anxiety.  It’s intense.

Consequently, my daily rhythms are weird.  Sure, I’ve been currently fighting a long-term illness and maybe my stamina isn’t currently what it once was when I was a younger man.  But every fourth or fifth day I’ll simply be so exhausted that I spend nearly the entire day sleeping.  I’ll wake in the morning at my usual time, eat breakfast, try to write a bit or look at stock charts, maybe place a trade or two, and then a sudden unyielding exhaustion will simply overtake me.  I never return to bed when I nap, because I’ve found that I always sleep even longer on a mattress and will only awake groggy or with a pounding headache.  Instead, I nap on the floor which is just uncomfortable enough to prevent me from oversleeping.  And it’s just mind-boggling, every fourth or fifth day, I’ll just sleep half the day away.  By the time I wake, it’ll be around 4p.  I get up off the floor, try to eat something, maybe do the laundry, and then that’s the day.

Every evening, Bagel and I also video-chat.  And she’s always telling me how at her office, people are routinely putting in 12+ hour days.  In fact, when I worked at the bank, I too remember routinely working from 8a – 10p.  That was a pretty standard day.  But now I’m just amazed by how much of that work was Grundoon-like busy-work and not truly challenging in any way, shape, or form.  I must have written thousands of emails during my time at the bank.  And programmed hundreds of thousands of lines of code.  Not to mention spent hundreds of hours in meetings and on calls.  But during all my years there, none of that holds even the remotest candle in mental effort and challenge it takes for me to brainstorm ideas, write characters and plots, and edit/revise/polish prose.  Not even in the same galaxy or universe of difficulty.

Similarly, I remember from many years ago how professional mathematicians are pleased with themselves if they manage to get four solid hours of work done in a day.  I’ve started developing a theory that if you’re in a job where you’re routinely working 10/12/14 hour days, then that job is clearly pretty menial in some sense.  Simply because the human brain is unable to do more than four or five hours of “deep work” in a day.  And definitely not consistently, day-in and day-out.  Of course, I’m only talking about white-collar, office type jobs, because that’s all I have experience with.  But seriously, this writing project is a whole other beast entirely.

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