08 October 2005

Dear Samuel Pepys

Principally, I am impressed by your industry. To have turned out a dozen volumes (in the Penguin edition) of diaries while holding down a full-time job at the top of the naval administration, conducting several energetic love affairs, reading all the most current scientific and philosophical literature, and occasionally getting together with your family for the seventeenth-century equivalent of a jam session, is pretty damn remarkable. I am impressed. It's hardly surprising your sight started to suffer.

I mind little you're not much of a writer. Your energy is a virtue, but, untempered by any writerly discipline, makes for torturous, labyrinthine prose. Your work was of great help to me when I was writing my play set during the Great Fire, but to be honest you're hell to wade through. So far as I can see, you're of literary value only as a window on your times, a mirror held up to 1660s nature.

And what a vigorous nature! Your industry is your legacy. It is a lesson to us all. I've spent two days this week watching series three of the West Wing and quite an improper amount of the rest of it playing scrabble against anonymous opponents on the internet. At university I was famed for my staggering productivity. To a certain extent I still am. But it has always been a battle. In my first year I had a note stuck to the ceiling above my bed, designed to be the first thing I saw in the morning, which read: "I must become more efficient". It became my mantra and to it I attribute my industry in the first and second year. I've never quite had the same will-power since, and I've never matched yours. Although I've been busy at times, my work is done when I'm in the mood or when deadlines press hard, it's never sheer graft. It's easy to attribute this to the extraordinary number of distractions available in the modern world, but that's not really good enough.

How did you do it? Did you have a sign above your bed?

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