MaxBarry.com
writes things for cash

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Tue 30
Jan
2007

Sloth: the new discipline

Writing For 2007 I have resolved to make every single blog about writing. Okay, no, not really. That would be boring as all get-out. But I am still a little giddy from my staggeringly disaster-free latest effort, so I might do a few more than usual. I mean, it’s not like anyone’s forced to read them, right? If you’re here for the cutesy Finlay pics, you can skip on by, can’t you? Right. And where possible I will try to relate them to non-writing areas, in order to avoid disappearing up my own butt.

So. To discipline. I have come to suspect that discipline is a myth. These elite athletes who train at four in the morning until their toes bleed; the child violinists who stay locked in their rooms practicing while all their friends are out doing fun stuff like drugs and unprotected sex; we’re supposed to think they’re disciplined. We’re meant to shake our heads in admiration and say, “Wow, she really earned it.” But I reckon what they’ve actually been doing is having a good time and calling it work.

I’ve reached this conclusion because I have no discipline, and I assume my character flaws are shared by the rest of the world. (The good parts are just me.) I work from home. There’s nobody stopping me spending my days browsing girls-with-glasses-having-mudfights.com instead of writing novels. The fact that I do manage to squeeze out a new book now and again is often interpreted as evidence that I must have great discipline. But I write books because I love it. That’s not discipline, is it? Isn’t that just being fortunate enough to get paid for recreation?

When I first decided to give full-time writing a shot—before I was published, by the way, which should tell you how very stupid I was—I was extremely disciplined. I had daily word targets. I graphed my progress. If I fell behind, I would berate myself about wasting precious time. And I did write many words. But I didn’t enjoy it much, and my output fell off, and the book I was writing turned out to be a steaming pile of crap, which I never finished.

I bet the same thing happens if you’re trying to become a professional violinist, or swimmer, or even something more mundane like trying to get into shape. Unless you enjoy the process and take pleasure from practicing, you give up.

Hmm. When I started this blog, I thought it was going to be kind of inspirational. You know, about how there’s not that much separating us normal people from world-class achievers. But now I think about it, you can also read it as a depressing indictment on how people are pathetic they can’t achieve anything unless they get lots of little rewards along the way.

Well, either way.

Note: I didn’t really mean to skip a whole month of blogs there. Sorry about that. I did get a ton of writing done, though, and played with my daughter. So, really, can you complain? I mean, and still sleep at night?

Comments

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Marc (#1168)

Location: SF
Posted: 4585 days ago

So, I don't actually have anything to say. I jut wanted first comment. How sad!

Farley (#2933)

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Quote: "YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE!...thanks, that's all I wanted"
Posted: 4585 days ago

I don't sleep at night anyway. Or in the daytime. I too have no discipline when writing. Sometimes the words just won't come. I try to force them and they come out ugly and awkward. So I just have to be content with good writing in fits and starts.

Narain (#824)

Location: Los Angeles, right between civilization and a desert
Quote: "NI!"
Posted: 4585 days ago

I'm sorry to say Max, but I'm not here for the cutesy pics of Finlay, or your tips on writing. I'm here to read about how you did lines of coke off of Lindsay Lohan and then get on your private yacht where you quietly manipulate the world economy.

Please?

austin (#2462)

Location: rhode island
Quote: "hmmm...bleh..."
Posted: 4585 days ago

Oh my.

Matthias Truxa (#576)

Location: Germany
Quote: "Nonsens"
Posted: 4585 days ago

Actually you are writing about being more idealistic vs being pure professional while doing work, or about having your own style vs following a schema, or also about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. And if it is more important for you to finish a book as to sell it you may even talk about self-determined purposes (intrinsic) vs materialistic behaviour (extrinsic) and also about making art vs making products.
Have you ever analysed what's that thing you call fun? You may simply be addicted to a condition called flow, you may only seek for acknowledgment (wondering about the english synonyms tribute and credit that really are materialistic), you may only be trapped in routine, or anything having to do with endorphines (on the long run its all about these but it's no very helpful thought). Or you may want to tell the world how you see things or you may be on your own mission to succeed in whatever.
The main advantage of being intrinsically motivated is that one can achieve individual things without being bound to the desires of the market. Thats why peoply would read your blog and books, I think (ok originally the market would be made up of individual interests rather than global ones). On the other hand you cannot really tell _why_ you are doing things, while you can when extrinsically motivated.
You know what? I'd always prefer idealists because it's kind of a mystic thing (and therefore not that determined as our boring world is). I know their work will not simply disappear if noone is there to buy it (because they are doing it for there own sake exclusivly), they'll have more quality than needed and they will be unique.
I never understood how someone can possibly achieve anything without wanting it intrinsically. Obviously some can. And here is the point: As an individual to do something great you have to be motivated intrinsically. As a part in a project that achieves an equal thing you only have to get your paycheck. If the project manager is competent, you may succeed. This way you can work on huge projects without even noticing. It is rather difficult to find more intrinsically motivated people to work on the same project because each of them has got his own vision and you cannot tell someone to do this or that.

Redsword (#2830)

Location: Georgia, U.S.A.
Quote: "Suspicion breeds confidence!"
Posted: 4585 days ago

No more 'Guns of Brixton' for me.

Kalle (#1278)

Quote: "Sex is herital. If your parents never had it, chanses are you'll never have it either."
Posted: 4585 days ago

I never considered this as just a blog. It's got the charecteristics. I don't know...maybe I still connect blogs with worthless information and a lack of a real life(none of that on this site!) Possibly because it's inspirational and interesting, something very few blogs are.

You don't blog for the blog's sake, that could be it.

mike (#1842)

Location: Houston
Quote: "It is okay to cry over spilled milk, if you really hate cleaning.."
Posted: 4585 days ago

I so know what you mean Max, I just finished my first novel, (blatant plug approaching), "The Pianoman". And I loved writing it, however if I don't start being rewarded for it soon, I might have to just go crazy. I don't know maybe I can go around shooting people with water guns to release my aggression. Slothiness (so not a word) is a serious fact of ....

Colette (#324)

Location: Houston, Texas, USA
Quote: ""The good Earth — we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy" -- Kurt Vonnegut"
Posted: 4585 days ago

Well, as a swimmer who gets up at 5 am every morning to practice until my toes bleed, I have to say that if you don't love what you do, you never go ANYWHERE. There's times when I love my sport and enjoy every practice, and I can take 5 seconds off every race, but there's time when I dread getting up, and when that happens my forward progress comes to a screeching halt and begins to backslide. You just kind of have to get through the bad spots with a positive attitude, because eventually it'll turn back around and you can continue on your trip to fame and glory.

It's the whole "positive attitude" thing that is the most difficult part of doing anything. You'll coast along on your bicycle of fun, then you'll hit that steep hill and you have to make an effort. It's hard to pedal up that darn thing, but once you've gritted your teeth and creaked to the top, it's usually worth it.

I'm kind of rambling, but my main point is that chess and writing and swimming and playing the violin (hey! I do that too: I'm a violist, though, not a violinist) are all fun and easy, to a point, then in order to be good and/or successful, you have to pour forth some effort.

John Doe (#797)

Location: Live from Omicron Persei 8
Quote: "You're just jealous because the little voices only talk to me."
Posted: 4585 days ago

Confucius said "Find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life."

Confucius also said "I love girls-with-glasses-having-mudfights.com. It makes me happy.", but that's a whole different story.

Shawna (#2485)

Location: San Francisco, CA
Quote: ""She is a child of ferocious will. She would question the universe if it could answer." - Anon"
Posted: 4585 days ago

I'll forgive the month without blogs if only because I got my Max Barry fix by reading Syrup. Thoroughly enjoyed that one - I'm glad I finally picked it up! Thanks for that. Can't wait to get a copy of Company...and I'll keep a special eye out for movie news now.

austin (#2462)

Location: rhode island
Quote: "hmmm...bleh..."
Posted: 4585 days ago

I was reading that blog at school today, not realizing my teacher was behind me reading it. She got kinda mad, but Max=worth it

shabooty (#637)

Location: D.C./V.A/M.D.
Quote: "I will shake your foundation. I will shake the f**cking rafters. Nobody'll be the same -Danny Bonaduce ....& go visit my blog @: http://www.shabooty.com"
Posted: 4584 days ago

i reward every work week with with a weekend blumpkin...

austin (#2462)

Location: rhode island
Quote: "hmmm...bleh..."
Posted: 4584 days ago

Coca cola is letting Jay-Z redesign the can and merketing for cherry coke. How couold they do that. Max is better suited. He already, in theory, designed coke Blak...

Michael Ricksand (#2212)

Location: Terra
Quote: "You do not have a right to be stupid."
Posted: 4583 days ago

Interesting how everyone wants to be an aouthor these days. I'm the only one I know who loves reading but doesn't think that automatically qualifies me to become a writer. As if listening to Tori Amos would make me a great piano player.

Machine Man subscriber Marleen (#2741)

Location: Berlin, Germany
Quote: "I want more expensive shoes in one place than I've ever seen in my whole life."
Posted: 4583 days ago

I suck at writing! Never even had the patience to go as far as actually trying it, either. So, now you know two.

Sudi (#2895)

Location: Ithaca, 10 square miles surrounded by reality
Quote: "Mostly lucid"
Posted: 4583 days ago

so this gives a lazy- a@# workaholic like me great hope. maybe one of these days i'll drift my way to great fame and fortune.

Right.

JB (#2465)

Location: Southern Illinoise
Quote: "I love you so much, now let's get something to eat."
Posted: 4583 days ago

Read between the lines.

Like it or not, lazy or not, some people are just better than you at stuff.

I remember meeting this one MFA Creative Writing student who was 39 and talked about still having time to catch up with Bret Easton Ellis. Good luck.

Kit (#850)

Location: UK
Posted: 4580 days ago

"Read between the lines.

Like it or not, lazy or not, some people are just better than you at stuff. "

That's debatable.

austin (#2462)

Location: rhode island
Quote: "hmmm...bleh..."
Posted: 4579 days ago

Haha.

JB (#2465)

Location: Southern Illinoise
Quote: "I love you so much, now let's get something to eat."
Posted: 4579 days ago

Yep. Stuff is debatable.

Sudi (#2895)

Location: Ithaca, 10 square miles surrounded by reality
Quote: "Mostly lucid"
Posted: 4579 days ago

when in qualitative twilight zone- use statistics! so 46.92% of the times, 40.34% of people are 80.23% better at 92.1% things. They might be better but guess where they'll go for the statistics? MWAHAHAHAHAHA!!

which brings me to a question for his great maxiness- are you ever going to consider writing a novel about the consultants taking over the world AND all its money- the big five to be general- the 'progeny of kinsey' to be more specific (i never knew Mc was 'progeny of')

Machine Man subscriber Ian Mond (#2538)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: "BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
Posted: 4578 days ago

I have gone and done a naughty thing and written a review of Company on my Live Journal (I'd post it here but its a bit long).

Here's the link: http://mondyboy.livejournal.com/

Mondy

Mike Reason (#2743)

Location: Rhode Island, USA
Quote: ""Carpe Diem!""
Posted: 4576 days ago

Has anyone in their writing, no matter what it starts off as, it all ends up being about the same thing? No matter what stories I write whether it is about a galactic war, a genetically engineered boy facing discrimination, or hunting vampires in a metropolis, I always get the feeling I'm writting about people dying in mass numbers. Maybe I've been watching the news too much. uh-oh, I hope to God I haven't been influenced by the news. All they ever talk about is the next big supervirus, celebrity children, Abu Ghraib, and missing white women.

Julian Bennett Holmes (#2209)

Location: New York, NY USA
Posted: 4574 days ago

So what beat out New York?
I saw you here last time, that was cool.

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