the rigorous m

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Archive for April, 2016

penny on writing and productivity

Posted by rigorousm on April 11, 2016

There’s a thing that happens somewhere between starting a long project and arriving, knackered and sweaty, at the finish line. It happens a few days after you’ve gathered your resources and excitedly sat down to begin whatever it is that you’re excited to do. Suddenly, you get tired- your muscles are starting to burn, but the finish line is way, way away. You won’t even see it until you put in a whole lot more gruelling work. This is the critical point. It’s the point where self-doubt and distraction set in. It’s the point at which most people give up.

I have a name for this stage. I call it the schmoop.

The schmoop is more than creative block, and more than procrastination, although it can involve both. The schmoop is wily: it tends to manifest as whatever your particular weakness is. Often it disguises itself as something worthy: a pressing practical commitment, a friend you haven’t called in weeks, or – my particular weakness- a sudden idea for a totally different, wildly interesting project that you simply must start right away.

The schmoop is boring, and it is gruelling. It’s the point at which you’re bored with your work and convinced that it sucks, but it’s not  yet finished enough to make it worth your while showing it to someone else. You can barely remember what it is you were excited about, because the nature of the schmoop is that it strikes before the thing attains its basic finished shape. You are stuck together, you and the schmoop, staring one another down across a gap where your best dreams are yet to take shape.

I was part of a conversation recently where a young writer (not me) asked a much more eminent writer (also not me) how to retain the sense of fun and delight in creativity, how to make the writing the unmitigated joy it was when he was doing it less seriously, rather than toiling relentlessly to produce and edit his weekly wordcount. The older writer’s advice was simple: ‘find a different job.’ 

The schmoop is hellish, and acknowledging its hellishness is the first step to defeating it. Wrestling the schmoop is not fun, so you get to be nice to yourself while you’re doing it. Take care of your body. Eat properly. Work out. See your friends, and not just for co-working. Treat yourself as much as you’re able whilst getting the thing done. Build specific, non-exhausting fun into your routine- so don’t waste time on Netflix- but do reward yourself with a trip to the cinema once you’ve done your quota of thing for the day, or the week. Get your nails done, or buy yourself some stupid toy you can afford, or whatever it is that you like to do for a private treat.

The trick is not to make the schmoop fun. The schmoop is never going to be fun, no matter how much you love your work, no matter how excited you are to get it done. The trick is to make the schmoop bearable. Because  the schmoop is the hidden pit between you and the end of your project. It’s there to confuse and bewilder you.

Whether or not you can beat the schmoop is the single biggest thing that separates professional artists, activists, journalists and freelancers from mere hobbyists. It’s whether you are committed enough to your art that you are prepared to let it bore and exhaust you.

There is shame associated with the schmoop. You aren’t supposed to be bored and stressed out. After all, aren’t you doing the thing you love? Didn’t you always want to be doing the thing? This misunderstands the whole point of loving art, or writing, or music, or technology, or whatever it is you’re weird about. A lot of people love making art for one night, or even a brief affair. 

The true test of commitment is whether you can stick with art through the boring times, the doubting times, the stressful, shitty bits that are hard to share with anyone else. If you can’t get through the rough bits and give your art what it needs whilst also taking care of yourself, you don’t really love making art. You’ve just got a creepy crush.

Laurie Penny, “Singleness, Tory Scum, and Schmoop Wrangling for Beginners” on the Penny Red newsletter for 3/9/16 (link to archivelink to archivelink to archive).

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turin on luxury vs chic

Posted by rigorousm on April 4, 2016

”Chic is when you don’t have to prove you have money. Chic is not aspirational. Chic is all about humor, which means chic is about intelligence. And there has to be oddness. Luxury is comfortable, expensive and conformist. But chic, which, of course, must be polite and not incommode others, can be as weird as it wants.”

Chandler Burr, “Sniff, and Scratch Your Head” for NYT, 2005. (link)

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