Hard Work and Staying in Your Chair — a lesson from Roald Dahl

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I heard an interview with Lucy Dahl, Roald Dahl’s daughter in which she talked about her father’s writing practices. She said that he had a favorite chair that he would sit every day. He would put a board across the arms and a typewriter on top of it.

He would sit in this chair with his board and typewriter and write every day from 10-12 and from 3-5. No matter what. No matter if it was a good day and the writing was flowing or not he would “as he would say, ‘put his bottom on the chair.'”

When asked what she learned from her father as a writer, it was this. She said, “He taught me the discipline of the hours— 10-12 and 3-5. And even if there’s nothing to write you sit your bottom on that chair because something will come.”

How often do we avoid staying in the hard work by letting ourselves get up and leave?

I know I do it. I can go from trying really hard to being lost in social media in a matter of seconds. My “bottom” may still be on the chair, as Roald Dahl would say, but it may as well not be. I may be physically there, but mentally I am somewhere else. Though Roald Dahl didn’t have facebook to contend with, I’m sure he wouldn’t have allowed it during his time in his chair.

I think of the pursuits of my life— when they have gone well and when they have not. In college I was a music composition major. Though I didn’t realize what I was doing, the most fruitful times for me were when I was doing the hard work of writing every day. I made it part of my schedule. It wasn’t my favorite way to work— I preferred writing when I felt inspired— but it was the most successful. I wrote most of my music and the best of my music not when I felt inspired to write but when I did the hard work: I sat myself down and stayed at it.

My writing today is similar. If I left it up to feeling inspired, I would publish one blog post a month at most. Almost all of my writing comes through the hard work of sitting down and staying in it.

Whether or not we want it to be the case, these things are true:

Inspiration comes through perspiration.

Quality comes through quantity.

Your best work is a result of hard work.[tweet that]

For me, writing is an important part of my work in the world. As such, I make myself sit down and write, even when I’d rather do something else.

In the comments: what does your commitment to doing the hard work look like? How do you stay in it when you want to leave?

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

There Are 4 Comments On This Post.

    • PS: To answer your question, I use my own version of the Pomodoro Technique. I haven’t used it in a while since I haven’t had a normal day in a while, but it’s how I got my book done! 50 minute segments, 500 words each, 3 times a day no matter what.

      http://pomodorotechnique.com/

      • I like your process, Lacy! I do a version of the Pomodoro Technique from time to time as well. I use a nice loud analog timer so the ticking helps keep me on task.

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