By now, many of you have probably read the New York Times blog “The Busy Trap” by Tim Kreider. It’s been blowing up Facebook and Twitter and is “the most e-mailed” NYT blog post. Most people seem to just love it (if you haven’t, you can read it HERE).
Tim Kreider is a cartoonist and essayist of some success. He has book credits, a regular feature on The Opinionator (New York Times) and several other credits many writers would kill for. He argues that being busy is a “self imposed trap”, and goes on to tell us that he has found success while writing for four or five hours a day, riding his bike, and catching up with friends. Hey, good for Tim Kreider, right? But he’s an asshole, and I’m going to tell you why.
Either he got very, very lucky and broke into the business very quickly, or he worked his fucking ass off. There is no in between in the creative world–there is blood, sweat and tears and there are overnight successes (though most “overnighters” will tell you that it only appears that way, and they put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears). Those of us in creative industries (like the artist friend he mentions who lives in Paris now, and is like, totally relaxed) know we have to work our asses off. One of the things Kreider admonishes us against is “work obligations”. Work? We should…not work so much? He also decries being “driven” and feeling like we “could do better”. Do I need to comment on why being driven and wanting better for yourself is a good thing?
Work less. I don’t even know what that means. I’m being honest. I work my ass off daily in hopes that someday a place like the New York Times will look at me with a moment’s interest. I’d love to have a book out. So…I’m fucking busy. The time I am not writing, working on a project, or networking, I am thinking about those things, or, you know, doing laundry. Us writer-types wear clothes, too. Busy means progress. Busy means I am not sitting around waiting for my dreams to come true. I’m working. I’m saying “yes” to the opportunities that knock, and yes, I am scheduling friends in, because they are kind enough, and care enough about me to want to see me succeed.
It’s not just us creative types, either. I have some friends, a married couple, who run a business in the Los Angeles area, for most that would be “busy enough”. Not them. They volunteer, they network constantly, they are involved in everything from animal rights to their local Chamber of Commerce. I have to schedule visits about a month in advance. By Kreider’s op-essay, they should be “cranky”, “dead on their feet”, “sad”. But they are happy. They are making a difference in their community, and probably brining more business to the company they work so hard to make successful. And here’s another secret–they meet people they like while doing these things. They have fun.
So, what does Kreider say to that? Did he really just wake up one morning and have the money and influence to write a few hours a day and then go do…whatever? I doubt it. If he did, then he isn’t a hypocrite, just unqualified to comment.
So, the question, I guess, is why are so many people yelling “AMEN!” to Kreider’s essay? My theory? I think we all look for reasons to dial down. Writers are infamous for getting on the net to “research” and ending up on Facebook or googling funny pictures. We say “I wrote for five hours yesterday, I’m not going to write today.” And that’s fine, it’s part of who we are (writers and non-writers alike) but we can’t forget that those people we look up to, the Lance Armstrongs, Stephen Kings, and yes, even Tim Kreiders, got to where they are because they spent a lot of time being relentlessly busy. Thankfully, most of them haven’t forgotten that. They will tell you to put the work in, make sacrifices, work your ass off. They won’t tell you to do the minimum amount of work to stay afloat (because most of us aren’t floating where we’d like to be) then go take a leisurely bike ride around the city.
In fact, most writers I know, that entertain any level of success, work harder than anyone I’ve ever met. The people who are in their thirties and working the jobs they’ve always wanted, making decent money and enjoying their life–work harder than everyone else. It’s a fact. And, there’s laundry. There’s dishes. There’s family. For most of us, there’s a day job, too.
Kreider seems to have forgotten how much work goes into gaining the life he leads. It’s kind of sad. He should be proud of working his ass off to get to a point where he can work the way he claims to. If he’s happy with where he’s at, nothing is stopping him from enjoying the privileged lifestyle so many of us would love to have.
I agree with Kreider on one point–busy-ness is self imposed. It’s what people do when they want to be great. Not good. Not moderately successful–great.
So I plan on staying busy. I hope my friends with dreams do, as well.