Charles Dickens, rejecting an invitation from a friend: “‘It is only half an hour’ — ‘It is only an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day … Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.”
Going back through my notes, I see I've written more than a few times (exhibit A, exhibit B) about creativity being at least as much about selectivity as it is about having a free-ranging imagination. I wring my hands and wrinkle my nose when I see five overstuffed books instead of one good one, because to my mind that's a sign the selectivity that shapes good art — and, in turn, quality entertainments — isn't present. I don't need a story to be longer to be more absorbing; I just need it to be absorbing, no matter what the length. I do my best not to look down my nose at other people for not making such decisions, though.
Let me put it this way: I don't think the author of a six-book cycle is a bad person; I just think he's being counterproductive in his habits. The same goes for the person who thinks of himself as a writer but when faced with the prospect of a keyboard and a blank screen, opts instead for his TV remote. Such people are simply shooting themselves in the foot by not learning to say no to the things that aren't part of the mission.
It's difficult to develop the discipline to do anything creative. I suspect the interest many people have in creative work is less about the doing of the work itself than about cherishing the fruits of their labor — the accolades, the ability to show other people what they've done, the need to say "I'm a [writer / artist / musician]!" to a total stranger. If you can't say no that much more to a TV screen and yes that much more to a blank page, then maybe a different calling is in order.
Some of why this line of thinking is so close to my heart may be because I have a heightened sense of awareness of life's fragility. I know better than to think I'll have the luxury of another day. The odds are good, but all the same, it's best if I not waste the day I've been given when I know full well there are things only I can do.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind