The filmmaker Werner Herzog says that the most important book about making movies is The Peregrine. The book is a natural history of the bird who depends on laser focus to hunt. The analogy we’re supposed to draw is that a filmmaker also needs that kind of focus. It’s a variation on the idea of deep work. If you want to create meaningful work, you must devote large chunks of uninterrupted time to your art.
In a recent episode of the Type A Creative podcast, Caroline Donahue offers another model. She is a writer, podcaster, teacher, and executive assistant. She’s got lots of irons in the fire. And she thinks that kind of range across a number of responsibilities is one way her “Type A” tendencies play out. Even though I wouldn’t call myself Type A, her list of responsibilities sounds very familiar. I’m a mama, I homeschool my children, work as an executive assistant, and I’m a writer. This is a life I’ve chosen and crafted. Still, my days feel full, and it’s the writing usually gets the dregs. If I make it to the page to note an image or write a few lines, I count that as a win.
All of the different streams of my life feed each other. I’m a better homeschooler because of the work I do. I use my writing skills to form real connections in my work. And the writing flows out of the life I live–books and trees and pots of soup. This diffused attention is the opposite of Herzog’s falcon. I simply don’t have regular, extended time to create in this season of my life. And yet there’s a vitality, a liveliness to this patchwork life.
But this year I’ve been feeling the pull toward more concentrated work, not just sketches, but finished drafts. This week I started a writing workshop that meets for 2 hours once a week. I was exhausted by the end of that stretch of writing. I was also completely exhilarated. I realized how much my writing needs not just the daily bursts but also the extended time at the page.
I’ve also discovered how restorative time away can be. I just might be dreaming of an Unworkshop at the Highlights Foundation. But for now, most days will find me at the page at least briefly. And I’m thinking of how I can add in longer stretches of writing time periodically–my own version of deep work.
P.S. The title of this post comes from Grace Llewellyn’s quote that’s a part of this post on deep work.