Factory Lit and the Shteyngart Number

We live in a difficult time for writing. Which seems like a stupid thing to say,  since right now feels like living inside a literary A bomb, in the bright moment before the boom—an explosion of the written word.

There’s a lot of talk about “noise” on the internet (try skyping some time and internet noise takes on a whole new, crickety sort of meaning), and how hard it is for Joe Q. Average to parse. I don’t know if that’s it exactly, but somewhere during this past night that I just spent awake, I realized I wrote a lot faster before I had aim.Not that my faster writing was better, or that my better writing has always been fast, but that I was, in raw numbers, significantly more productive before I could talk to friends at the odd hours of the night when I do my best work. Suketu Mehta told me he thinks it’s critical to write for an hour or two every day, but what does an hour mean if somebody Gchats you after the first 15 minutes?

AIM+ Facebook + Gmail= my axis of literary evil.

The problem is instant vs. delayed gratification. If I write a note to my friend, or a blog post that somebody reads and thinks is insightful or funny or they get to the end of it without dying, that’s instantly gratifying. If I spend months, and in some cases years, writing a novel that i know may never get published, or a story that lots of people will hate, well, it takes a lot more willpower, sustained over a much longer period of time.

And meanwhile, there’s the fucking A-bomb.

The problem with the A-bomb is that drawing the blinds or wearing sunglasses or getting one of those nifty screen glare-reducing shields …will be generally ineffective against the A-bomb.

Likewise, it is not really possible to turn off the internet anymore. Sure, you could unplug your wireless or close the browser or whatever, but it will still call to you as long as you are on the computer and can see the little firefox icon saying “click me. Please click me. You can just use Pandora. It will help you.”  You could go totally analog and write on paper, but there are lots and lots of drawbacks to that idea, including that you have terrible handwriting, just admit it.

The solution, then, is like all great industrial solutions: a quota.

Stephen King writes 10,000 a day. That is Stephen King’s quota. if you have ever written, you know that Stephen King was invented by G-d to make us all feel bad about ourselves and hopeless as writers, utterly unproductive and doomed to fail.

There is no way I can write 10,000 words every damn day. There is just not enough Diet Redbull.

So I asked Gary Shteyngart, who said he writes 2 pages every day while he is composing a book. Rain or shine, 20 minutes or five hours, Gary Shteyngart writes 2 pages. It may have taken me the better part of the night with pauses for drunkenness and epic aim conversations, but I wrote my 2 damn pages.

That, my friends, is why the Russians dominate. Fucking quotas.

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Filed under 3rd World Imagineering, Brighton Beach

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