Fitting in Work Around Other Work

open books, notebook, and coffeeWell, I just spent at least half an hour trying to find a quotation from the British classicist Mary Beard about her writing and I haven’t been able to do so.  It’s always a mistake to let a good idea go by and then have to hunt it down later. So I won’t be able to give you an exact quotation, but she said something like, “As I was sitting and working on my few sentences.” Mary Beard is one of my heroes; her book The Fires of Vesuvius is a true time-travel tool.

(I’m very surprised that I haven’t ever written a post about it, but I think I read it before I started blogging. If you want to get a clear picture of what life was really like in ancient Pompeii, do take a look.  Just be aware that Beard is decidedly un-squeamish about all aspects of ancient life.)

Anyway, Beard is an extremely busy teacher, speaker, traveler, and writer of books and blogs. Her massive work SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome came out in 2015 to great acclaim, but it is only the last in a series of books. I’ve just put three of them on hold, one the Pompeii history to re-read and two others: a study of Roman humor and another of Roman religion. (All of this reading can be justified by my some-day-I’m-going-to-write-a-novel-set-in-ancient-Rome ambition.) So the question is, How does she fit all of this in? She’s not a hermit; she’s married and has now-grown children. She lives in a beautiful house. She has friends (and some very famous and public feuds). At least part of the answer lies in that brief misquoted quotation above: she uses little bits of time. We always think when we’re working on a big project (see yesterday’s post) that we need big chunks of time to make any headway, but that’s often not true. As I’ve lumbered to the finish line on my Carmina commentaries I’ve found that it’s surprising how much I can accomplish in 15 minutes. In that amount of time I can (possibly) find an illustration for a selection, edit it, attribute it, insert it, and save it. It’s done! And very painlessly.

Beard also has daily goals for her writing. She says somewhere that if she can produce 1,000 words a day she’s very happy. That’s not terribly overwhelming, and it doesn’t seem to be anything hard and fast for her. Of course, those 1,000 words come only as the end result of hundreds of research hours. Trips to an archaeological site can’t be squeezed into 15 minutes!

I’ll end with a lovely quotation that I did find in my abortive search for the one above:

The first time that I picked a Roman coin out of the ground in Shropshire was a moment that I guess changed my life. It was the contact between us (or the past) and them. It has never left me. (From Beard’s blog A Don’s Life: “What to See in Roman Britain,” The Times Literary Supplement.)

You may notice, by the way, that I don’t have Amazon links for the books I mention above. That’s because for some reason Amazon doesn’t want their links included in posts that are sent out via e-mail. I can’t understand this rationale at all. Beard doesn’t have an author’s website per se with links to order her books. If you’re at all interested in ancient history, though, or if you think you’re not interested in ancient history, I’d encourage you to take a look at her stuff. It’s great.

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