Short Term Personal Savior: Neal Stephenson

Every so often someone inspires me in such a way that I designate them my Short Term Personal Savior. There are many ways one can receive this special designation. It could be through a lesson I have learned from them, a way that they are living life that is inspirational or that they are just plain badass.
Today’s Short Term Personal Savior is Neal Stephenson. Here is why:

  1. He is hands down one of my favorite authors and I feel probably one of the greatest writers of the last 20 years. I mean, this guy not only writes novels, he writes epics. His last work was The Baroque Cycle which consisted of three books, each nearly 900 pages long… Which he wrote by hand… i.e. Longhand… On legal pads… With a quill pen… Badass!
  2. He discourages almost all public interaction in an effort to increase his productivity as a writer. To him, e-mail, speaking engagements, silly questions about petty details in his book that he has not only answered dozens of times but are also easy to find his answers to them on the internets, all of these keep him from doing the one thing he was put on this earth to do – write. Which he explains thusly:

“Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four. If I know that I am going to be interrupted, I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all. Likewise, several consecutive days with four-hour time-slabs in them give me a stretch of time in which I can write a decent book chapter, but the same number of hours spread out across a few weeks, with interruptions in between them, are nearly useless.”

  1. His only web presence is a page on The Well the contents of which one could basically boil down to this phrase:

“All of my time and attention are spoken for–several times over. Please do not ask for them.”

He is not trying to be an ass. He is just explaining why he does not even have the time to put up a pretty web page or even hire someone to do so for him. He is caring for his inner introvert.
It is for these reasons that Neal Stephenson rocks the block and is worthy of being my Short Term Personal Savior.

5 thoughts on “Short Term Personal Savior: Neal Stephenson”

  1. Patrick, thank you for the excellent post. Stephenson’s discussion of non-linear productive time stretches is completely on target and somehow overlooked in much of the modern cube farm world.

  2. Yes…excellent post. I couldn’t agree more. I (along with my one other co-worker) have just started working at home 1 day a week in the quest for blocks of time uninterrupted by visits from the boss.
    Today was my day at home, and I did more work today than I’ll probably get done for the rest of the week. No meetings, no phone calls, email set to update once every 60 minutes.
    Oh…and I hate to quibble, but here’s an excerpt from the Colophon of the Baroque Cycle:
    The manuscript of The Baroque Cycle was written by hand on 100% cotton paper using three different fountain pens: a Waterman Gentleman, a Rotring, and a Jorg Hysek.
    from http://www.nealstephenson.com/

  3. Oh yeah — still definitely a badass.
    I just finished reading the Baroque Cycle about a month ago, and he’d be a badass no matter how he wrote it. Using real ink and real paper just makes it all the more so.

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