I was watching the Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night and his guest that evening was author David Sedaris. He was there to promote his new book, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary. It’s a strange little collection of short stories where animals are placed in very human situations. For instance, the squirrel-chipmunk pair that serves as the source of the book’s title? After initially participating in compelling discussions on nuts and nut-related subjects, they’re an old couple who have run out of things to talk about.
Now, what does this really have to do with today’s blog post? Well, during the interview with Stewart, David Sedaris brought up a very interesting technique that he used to write this book. When he sat down with the project for the first time, he set a goal for himself to write 25 short stories. However, he fully intended to cut ten of these stories from the final publication. The idea is that he would purposely overbook himself and cultivate only his best work.
On the surface, this sounds like a pretty decent strategy. By writing “too much” for the book, he can be sure that only his best work is put forward and the final product should be of better overall quality than if he included everything. Extending this concept to other realms, you can see how it would be nice if a race car driver took 15 laps of the track, only to have just ten of those laps actually “count” for something. That doesn’t happen in the world of sports, but it could work in the context of writing.
However, this purposeful overbooking technique does have its fair share of shortcomings. You can see how it easily lends itself to overwhelming burnout, since you are forcing yourself to do more than you really have to do. When you only have so many hours in the day and already a lot on your plate, can you really afford to dedicate even more time to something that you fully intend to discard?
When you combine this technique with creating a false sense of urgency, you could be setting yourself up for a very stressful time. If the whole point of writing the book is to create a passive income stream so you can lead a better life, isn’t this almost self-defeating? In part, perhaps, but I think there is still some value to be had from considering such a strategy.
The key, as with so many other things in life, is moderation. Go ahead and overbook yourself when you think it may be appropriate, but be careful not to overuse this technique lest you want to send your stress levels through the roof.