Parkinson’s Law for Writers- Introduction

Although he was not entirely serious at the time, Cyril Northcote Parkinson once declared one of life’s truisms- “The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource.”

What does this mean?

Well, let me give two examples:

1) If you only have $10 for food that week, you will find a way to make do with $10 worth of food, but if you have $100 you will spend $100 on food that week even if you could have made do with $10.
2) If you say you have one day to get a project done, it will get done in one day. If you say the same project will take a week, it will take you a week to get it done.

Because of many factors, be it laziness, practicality, or procrastination, it’s just human nature to make maximum use of resources like money or time for our own convenience, even if using them more wisely might bring us long-term benefits. Maybe it’s a side-effect of short-term thinking, or our selfish natures, but this is a problem that keeps popping up again and again, and often we let this side of ourselves keep us from doing what we want to do. This is what’s known as Parkinson’s Law.

I’ll give you an example (the one which got me thinking about this topic)- National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) is a month where would-be writers are encouraged to pump out a 50,000 word novel (or 50,000 words of a novel) in an effort to force themselves to write. It creates a time limit, sets a clear goal, and forces writers (who are horrible procrastinators) to actually commit to using that month to produce the book they’ve always wanted to write. The idea is that 1,667 words a day (50,000 roughly divided by 31) is an easily achievable goal for almost any writer, even one with a day job, and if they just reach that goal consistently for 31 days they’ve got their book finished!

It’s a great idea, and for many people it works. It gets butts in seats and words on the screen, and overcomes many of the hurdles that writers tend to find themselves facing in an effort to make their dreams into reality. But, what really made me think was what writer Matt Ahlschlager did- he finished NaNoWriMo in 1 day! In fact, he did it in less than a day, while bogging about it as he went, and this November he did it 3 times!

So why does it take other writers 31 days? Yes, Matt is a fast typer, but couldn’t most people carve out a weekend (2 whole days) and produce a book, especially if they wrote “Chinese Style”?

Isn’t this just an example of Parkinson’s Law in effect? Writers give themselves 31 days, so it takes 31 days, but it doesn’t HAVE to. Writer Michael Moorcock wrote an essay called “How to Write a Book in 3 Days“, and it outlines exactly how to write a book in one weekend. Even most professional writers (the prolific ones) often talk about writing a novel in 2-3 weeks at most, and author Rachel Aaron discusses how to do it in one week by writing 10,000 words a day. It can be done.

Think about it- if you had 2 days to write a 50,000 word novel or pay a $100,000 penalty, could you do it? I bet you could. I bet most people with at least some writing talent could, especially if given a bit of preparation.

So why don’t you?

Every book you write is a potential “lottery ticket” which could actually make you $100,000 (in the long run, if it sells well) and the more stories you write, the better your chances are of writing that winning book. So why are you capable of that kind of productivity only if it’s penalty? Why can’t you do it as a reward? (Yes, I know, one is certain, and one is a gamble, but if you don’t write anything you’re guaranteed to make nothing from it.)

It’s this thinking that got me wondering about how writers could find ways to use Parkinson’s Law to their advantage. If this is a part of human nature, how can we “hack” it to benefit ourselves as writers and make ourselves more productive and profitable in the process?

So let’s explore this “law” and see what it can do for our creativity. When I have time, I’m going to write a series of posts on this topic, and my thoughts on how we can benefit from it.

First up- TIME!


The Population vs. Productivity Paradox

This is one of the most fascinating discussions I’ve listened to in a while, and also one of the most sobering. Take the time to listen to this episode of the Cracked podcast, it’s 100% worth it, although a little unsettling in its conclusions. You don’t expect to get something this deep and thoughtful from a “comedy” podcast, but here it is…

Listened to it? (Really, go listen to it, it’s worth the time.)

Okay, now my own thoughts.

I think Jason’s pretty much 100% right, and while I wouldn’t quite call it a “hive mind”, I do think that societies function as organisms on a greater level than the individual which have their own goals and responses. The idea that societies produce the kinds of people they “need” makes sense if you look at it from this perspective and the children of each generation are shaped to suit the needs of that society by social forces.

Of course, his conclusions are pretty uncomfortable. When I first heard what he said, all I could think of was Mega-City One from the old Judge Dredd comics. Despite how the city is often portrayed post-1980’s in the comics, the original idea behind the city was that it was a city where everyone’s basic needs were taken care of by the state, and so the whole population existed in this everlasting condition of slight boredom. The city was essentially a warehouse of people who existed to exist, and this produced bizarre social trends and cultural movements which the comic played for darkly humourous social commentary.

However, looking at it with a more logical eye, I think the society he proposes might not be the worst option. Heck, as he says we pretty much do this already, we just call it something else. Those with ambition work, while those without ambition would just spend their time doing whatever it was they enjoyed and keeping out of trouble. Here in Canada we almost do this already with our extensive Welfare system, which many Conservatives harp on all the time and say we need to be rid of to “force them to work”. But the truth is we already have an “official”  unemployment rate hovering around 7%, and the true rate is probably much much higher (the government manipulates the numbers so they don’t look bad), so if we were to force all those “welfare bums” out onto the street what work would there be for them? Do you want hundreds of thousands (or possibly millions) of unemployed, starving and desperate people dumped out into our society? How’s that going to benefit social stability?

Meanwhile, as he says, all those “welfare bums” put 100% of what the government gives them back into society and keep our economy going, so why should we begrudge giving them what they need to survive? If anything, it’s the rich people who hoard their money that actually take money from the system and work against the economy by not putting most of what they make back into circulation.

What’s the alternative anyways? We either give people what they need to live, and let them choose what to do with their lives, or we have a large excess population that is poor, increasingly desperate, and progressively on the verge of social unrest until revolution finally does happen. And when it does, everyone will lose- rich and poor.

Then again, it would solve some of the overpopulation problem. As Jason says, society has a way of correcting these things on its own.




John Ralston Saul on The Collapse of Globalism

Just finished watching this amazing 2 part interview with John Raulston Saul that aired on TVO’s The Agenda this week. A really fascinating discussion of the real nature of Globalization and how and why Saul believes it failed.

I’m not sure I agree with everything Saul says, but most of it does make a large degree of sense. One of the most interesting things he explained (for me) was about the “Oil Crisis” that occurred in the 1970’s, of which Oil was only a part of the problem. The short version is that what really happened in the 1970’s was that we went from an economy of scarcity (there not being enough product) to an economy of surplus (lots of product available from multiple competing sources) and this rocked our whole financial system. Suddenly, there wasn’t big profit in making things anymore because there would always be so much competition out there to drive prices (and profits) down. Globalization was an attempt to solve this problem by “creating new markets through pulling down borders and bringing up standards of living”, thus creating more customers and in theory driving up prices again by making products scarce again. Of course, I’d say it didn’t work out so well for many reasons, including that those new markets became our factories where where produced products even more cheaply, and instead drove prices and profits down even more!

An interesting sidenote is that this is why in the 1980’s we saw a rise in Stock Markets and financial instruments, because making money by real investing didn’t produce the kind of profit people wanted anymore, so it became about playing with money in order to produce more money. Think about it, people don’t buy stocks because they care about a product or company, they buy them because they want to ride the wave and dump them at a time when they can make more profit from that stock.

Anyways, enough of my thoughts on the subject, spend the 50 minutes it will take to watch this 2 part interview (especially the second part) and give Saul a listen. It’s one of the most interesting interviews I’ve seen in a while, and I may just pick up his most recent book and give it a read.


Dean Wesley Smith » The Secret of Indie Publishing

A must read for anyone who wants to be an independent/self publisher getting into the eBook market. (Especially those who want to make money at it!)

I have heard over and over and over from indie publishers how their sales are not what they expected, or how they hope to promote their way to a big seller on their one book. Up to now I have mostly just bit my lip and kept my mouth shut

.It just doesn’t work with one or two or even five stories up. Or at least it doesn’t work that way unless you are fantastically lucky and wrote a great book on the exact right topic at the exact right time. I hate planning on being lucky to make it. I want to plan on hard work and quality writing.

But at the same time, do I expect every indie publisher to even think about doing what I suggested in #9 and sell books to indie bookstores? Of course not. That’s far more work and business knowledge for most indie publishers to handle.

So how can an indie publisher plan on making a living, paying the bills, without “luck” coming into play and without sending out thousands of flyers as I suggested last chapter?

Simple, actually. You have to write more.

via Dean Wesley Smith » Think Like A Publisher #9.5… The Secret of Indie Publishing.

CTV News | Nice guys make less than ‘highly disagreeable’ men

Men who score on personality tests as highly disagreeable tend to earn more than 18 per cent more – an average of $9,700 more a year – than men who were scored as most agreeable. Agreeableness made less of a difference in women, but it still meant an average 5-per-cent salary gap for nice gals.


Wow, not only do the jerks get more girls when they’re young, they actually make more than the nice guys later in life too. Being nice is seriously not an advantage in human society for males.

via CTV News | Nice guys make less than ‘highly disagreeable’ men.

Anxious publishers watch Indigo makeover –

Ahh, capitalism in it’s purest form. Take a good idea, pump it up, and run it into the ground after you’ve destroyed all the competition.

Say what you will about government regulation of industry, it promotes stability, whereas capitalism promotes chaos and short-term profits over long-term benefits.

In case you’re wondering what I’m babbling on about- the Chapters/Indigo bookstore chain here in Canada more or less destroyed our entire small bookstore ecosystem a number of years ago (London, where I live, had 20+ independant bookstores in 1990, now it has one.) and now their new CEO had determined that they’re going to start getting rid of those icky books that keep them from selling “lifestyle” products in their stores.

Read it and weep, I did:

Anxious publishers watch Indigo makeover –

If you thought Italy was bad…

Looks like a few countries might be in trouble…


If you thought Italy was bad… | Business |

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: Which Way Will You Make More Money? | Nathan Bransford, Author

This guy’s posting some real numbers about self-publishing and what makes money for authors. Definitely worth a read.

It’s author monetization week! Monday through Thursday this week I’m going to have a series of posts on a crucial topic for the modern writer: How to make money.

Today we’ll start with the books themselves. With the e-revolution (e-volution?) well underway, print sales are declining and there’s a great disparity between the amount an author can make per-copy with a self-published e-book vs. a traditionally published e-book. Authors are taking a hard look at their balance sheets.

How is it that authors are making more per copy from $2.99 e-books than traditionally published are with $10.99 e-books? Does it mean everyone should self-publish?

via Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: Which Way Will You Make More Money? | Nathan Bransford, Author.

Pop Didn’t Eat Itself: Why Piracy Didn’t Destroy the Music Industry

…the US music industry is making less than half of what it made at its 1999 peak of $14.4 billion. It currently makes about $6.3 billion. Why did it drop so fast? Piracy, right?


Wrong. First of all, a fun little fact: that $6.3 billion figure is only album sales. Not ringtones, not licensing rights, not merchandise sales, none of that is included. Why don’t they include that? Because then you’d know they’re still making between $9 and $10 billion

via Pop Didn’t Eat Itself: Why Piracy Didn’t Destroy the Music Industry.