“The light from the oncoming train focuses the mind.”


Recently, I was asked to write a 400 word piece for an industry publication – in an hour and a half. I like to think I’m quite fast, and writing this blog has made me even quicker. But the deadline did put me under a bit of pressure. I got the piece done with a little time to spare; it could’ve been better – much better – but it was fine. When I told a business journalist friend about this, he laughed and told me he routinely pumps out 400 words in 20 minutes.

The same week, I read a brilliant piece about the aborted attempt to publish a ghostwritten autobiography of the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Aside from the fascinating reflections on the political/ethical implications of Wikileaks’ work, the main things that came across were Assange’s out-of-control egotism and the strange amateurism of his outfit. At one point, Andrew O’ Hagan, the flabbergasted ghostwriter on the subsequently abandoned project, points out that Assange and his team purport to be flat out but are actually coasting: “I was beginning to wonder about the time-wasting. I couldn’t understand the slow and lazy way they went about things. They always talked about the pressure of work, about how busy they were, but, compared to most journalists, they sat on their arses half the day.”

It all got me thinking about people’s differing relationships with time and the different time constraints within various fields of creativity. For example, I heard a Dave Trott interview the other day where he was talking about the difference in process between artists and advertising people. “Guys who do pure art have got forever…an infinite amount of choices of things to do and an infinite amount of time to do it in. We haven’t got that, we’ve got to go from a standing start much faster.” And, depending on the agency you work at and the brief you’re on, that could mean three weeks, three days or three hours. I don’t think Julian Assange would make a very good copywriter.

Then, as I was pondering this, thinking about the drivers that motivate us to get our arses in gear, I read an interview with Bruce Springsteen in Rolling Stone that seemed to get right to the very core of the issue. He was talking about his attitude to work and getting stuff done. A workaholic and obsessive detail freak, he’s created an almost peerless body of work across four decades. But he didn’t release a studio album between The Ghost of Tom Joad in 1995 and The Rising in 2002. Although he’s 64, he doesn’t intend to slow down and get less productive; he can’t imagine ever taking another seven-year break. “It’s like that old story,” he said. “The light from the oncoming train focuses the mind.”


About antmelder
Executive Creative Director at Host/Havas Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

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