Daily Dojo

Fingers To The Bone

I’m considered a prolific writer.

I share this with you not to brag, but because it’s what I’ve been told, many times.

I’m told I’m very prolific (and versatile, too, but that’s another discussion for another day) by numerous folk familiar with my work over the years. I’ve been told this many times, by every agent I’ve had. In fact, the very first writing group I joined in New York City, way back in the day, that was the first comment given to me by one of the moderators (I had a habit of bringing in new work every week, go figure).

So more people will tell you I’m prolific than not. I accept that’s what’s thought about me.

Let me share a secret with you. Are you ready? Here we go . . .

I don’t consider myself prolific at all.

In fact, I tend to obsess (probably more than I should) over what I HAVEN’T written and the hours I HAVEN’T been working.

I’m not nearly as prolific as I should be or strive to be. Not even close.

In my mind, I’m a Goddamn slacker.

Now, it is true?

Yes and No.

Let’s present our case to the jury.

I have written a lot of material. In fact, my best friend (and partner in a number of ventures) is reading this right now and cursing my ass out soundly. He often thinks I push myself too hard and points to the vast amount of work I have done, which include but is not limited to, nine or ten full length plays, eight or nine screenplays, forty or fifty short plays, ten or twelve television treatments, couple of practice novels I don’t show to anyone, a personal journal . . . and more stuff that I haven’t listed here that my buddy would probably bring up. The fruits of the labor has presented itself in the fifty or so productions of my plays I’ve had over the past ten, eleven years.

You get the idea - for as young as I am - I’ve written a lot of stuff thus far. I also tend to do good work fairly quickly (again, this is what I’m told, not what I think - more on what I think below). I guess some writers move at the speed of a glacier. Not that that’s wrong or right, just that THAT is what some do. I’m not that way. Which enforces the view toward prolific.

On the PRO slacker side.

On the corner of the street where I live, there’s a Chinese restaurant. There’s one on almost every corner in New York City, true. But I know this one, I’ve lived on this street for three years, I’ve come to know the Chinese family that runs the place, I’ve eaten their food more times than I can count and I say hello to them every time I walk by to the subway.

Let me tell you something. They’re open every day of the week. Seven days. Open at eleven in the morning, close at eleven at night, twelve on the weekends. Mom runs the counter, she has the best English. Every day, twelve hours or more, for the past three years. Open on holidays, too, except for possibly Christmas, but to be honest I don’t remember EVER seeing the place not open. For real. And the same people running it, every day. They don’t take a break.

I work pretty hard, or like to think I do, but I am shamed every day when I walk by because I know in my heart I don’t work as hard as they do. I’ll do a couple ten hour days when on deadline, I’ll write seven days a week when I’ve got projects hot to go. But I don’t do that for that long without taking a break. I don’t work as long and continous as they do.

It’s not as though the family running the restaurant is unhappy, far from it. Cheeriest folk you’d ever want to know. Happy because they’re glad to be here, working for themselves and family, working toward their dream. They have their dream and work their fingers to the bone to realize it.

I have a dream, too. It’s why I write, what I’m working for. How many hours a week do I write? Not enough. Not nearly enough. I don’t even want to try and count, because it’ll just make me mad at myself. Whatever it is, it’s not twelve hours a day, seven days a week.

I’ve had a regular type day jobs, jobs I’d go to and toil away at whatever I’m told to do for forty hours a week, right? I’ve done that before with a number of jobs, including but not limited to, construction worker, vet technician, administrative assistant, short order cook, field hand (that’s right, I’ve been an honest to God field hand), direct-care worker for the developmentally disabled and a bouncer at a pool hall. I’ve done all those jobs, forty hours a week, at some point in my life. I worked hard at those jobs, true. But I didn’t work as hard as the folks running the Chinese restaurant on the corner.

I work pretty hard now, as a writer, hard enough that my significant other gets concerned, hard enough that my best buddy wants me to cool it. Hard.

Why do I push myself?

I’ve been doing this long enough to see that a lot of writers expect fortune to just be simply handed to them. Expect inspiration to visit whenever you need.

The thing is, you cannot really sit around and wait for your dream to come to you.

You have to chase it down. Run after it. Hard.

Having a dream is easy. Realizing your dream is the hard part. Takes work.

Writing is work, whether fortune or inspiration show up or not, there’s still work to be done. I’ve prided myself on being a blue collar word mechanic with dirt under his nails, one that shows up to work when it’s time for work, not when I feel like it. That’s me.

I’m working for my dream.

I’m not working my fingers to the bone like the folks in the Chinese restaurant are, not yet.

Compared to them, I’m a Goddamn slacker, better off sitting in front of the idiot box playing video games.

But I’ll get there someday, I’ll make it to that point. I believe, in some part of me, that if I am able to work as hard as those folks, all my dreams will be realized. I believe that.

Now I just got to make it happen.

Now I just have to get back to work.

Time for work.

5 Responses to “ Fingers To The Bone”

  1. Dorothy Says:

    Wow . I am so impressed.
    But consider this : it’s not always the hard work. Yes hard work is important. But the breathing space in important. The play is important.
    Playing is important.
    Living in important.
    Cutting yourself some slack is important.
    Because there comes a point when intention turns into pushing and no one wants to watch that.
    You get my drift.

  2. James Says:

    Yup, this entry is very much in the “close to home” department, Mr. James. There have been many times people have said to me (when talking about my playwriting), “Man, James. You are a machine. How do you write so much? How do you have the time? Do you ever sleep, man?” And of course all I can think about is how lazy and productive I am (and think of the numerous plays, screenplays and novels I started and never finished or worse, thought of and never started).

    (This becomes especially true whenever you read writing manuals that all pretty much say, “Write All Day, Every Day, Or Else Don’t Even Have The Nerve To Call Yourself A Writer.” And it’s not like you can argue against that.)

    But these are all rules of the game. Your dream doesn’t just happen. You can’t just write a handful of things and rest on your laurels and expect to be “discovered.”

    Dorothy is also right. I’m reminded of a quote from Woody Allen (and I don’t have it memorized so this is a paraphrase) saying an artist’s life isn’t his work, an artist’s life is going to the movies, walking through the park, paying bills and doing laundry.

    Maybe someday I’ll get myself to be as productive as Isaac Asimov or Anthony Trollope was.

    Anyway, good post. Now get back to work!


  3. Joshua James Says:

    Thanks guys -

    I do believe play is important, as is downtime - it just seems to me that all the theatre training I’ve had was focused more on play time and less on work time -

    Plus, I am truly shamed when I think that I’m working hard and then walk by that restaurant - those folks really define hard work -

  4. Lucas Skoblar Says:

    Hello. I am Lucas Skoblar from Argentina and I am writing because in my test I wrote “working my fingers right down to the bone” and she says it is impossible to write the phrase lik that… does anyone know anything about it? I need to know. Please write….

  5. Daily Dojo of Joshua James » Blog Archive » The Dojo Makiwari Board of Greatest Hits - July ‘06 Says:

    […] The Last Gasp Fingers To The Bone It’s Like A Kick To The Head . . . And While You’re Over Here, You Mind Grabbing That End Of The Couch? […]

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