More than likely, the amount of time you spend reading this blog will end up being a fraction of the amount of time I spend with it. Once I factor in brainstorming, writing, and editing, I’ll end up logging several hours.
You, on the other hand, will probably spend a couple minutes on this thing. Maybe parts of it will stick with you. Maybe you’ll think about it occasionally after you read it. Even so, you’ll still be way behind me.
More and more, I’m finding this to be true in all aspects of my life as a creative person. There’s going to be a “time discrepancy” between what I spend on a project and on what my audience spends on it.
I’ll spend all week teaching myself a tricky drum fill that ends up occupying a couple seconds of a song when I play it at church Sunday morning.
At work, I spend hours every day brainstorming and talking through topics to share for only a few minutes at a time on the morning show.
By the time I’ve finished the Marian Trilogy, I’ll have spent anywhere from three to five years on a series that someone could easily read in a few weeks.
That’s the weird thing about art. You spend ridiculous amounts of time preparing, tweaking, and shaping a project. You put your heart and soul into it just so your audience doesn’t notice any of your hard work. If someone gets pulled out of a book I’ve written because I wanted to impress them with some syntax acrobatics, I’ve failed. If someone can’t focus on a song because my drumming draws too much attention to itself, I’ve failed.
I’ve seen artists say things like “I put years of my life into something that you’ll only spend a few minutes with, so think twice before you judge it,” but that’s never felt right to me. You put all that time and effort into a project so it’ll be ready, even for people who are coming in a little skeptical. Besides, I’ve always thought it’s kind of romantic to imagine all the work I do on a story disappearing into the pages. The less time it takes someone to read my book, the better I’ve done my job.
I’ll be putting out a free short story in the next month or so (subscribers to my mailing list will get a sneak peek a couple weeks early, of course). It’s only 3,000 words long, but I’ve put hours into those words. I’ve stared down that blinking cursor for days to make sure every character was just right.
I finally let my wife read it the other night. She finished it in the time it took me to get ready for bed, and then she looked at me and smiled. My hours of hard work and self-doubt all culminated in a few minutes’ worth of reading time, a smile, and a “That was really cool!” comment. I couldn’t have been happier.
There’s a piece of advice you hear a lot as a writer: You have to want to write a book. You can’t want to have written one. And I think this whole concept is part of the reason why. You have to enjoy the process, because you’ll be spending way more time working than anyone will spend caring about the finished product.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What projects do you work on that have a huge “time discrepancy?” Alternatively, have you ever worked on something that you spent less time with than the people you made it for?