What Did You Accomplish This Morning?

640px-JackLondon-office-1916

Probably not as much as Jack London – though the rest of your day may well be more productive than his. From James Camp’s review of a new biography of the writer:

Jack London’s writing routine was the single unchanging element of his relatively brief adult life. From the age of 22 until his death at 40, he wrote a thousand words every day, a quota he filled as a rule between 9 and 11 a.m. He slept for five hours a night, which left him with 17 hours of free time. But in his writing hours he was prolific: he produced short stories, poetry, plays, reportage, ‘hackwork’ and novels, many of them bestsellers. In 18 years, he published more than fifty books. ‘I’d rather win a water fight in the swimming pool,’ he said, ‘than write the great American novel.’

In his off hours, London ‘wanted to be where the winds of adventure blew’, as he wrote in John Barleycorn, his ‘alcoholic reminiscences’. He was a child labourer in Oakland at 14, a Bay Area pirate at 15, a transcontinental hobo at 16, an able-bodied seaman at 17, a New York State prisoner at 18, a California ‘work beast’ at 20 and a Yukon prospector at 21. He escaped penury at 23, when after a frantic apprenticeship he began selling short stories. The bulk of them were set in the Yukon or in the South Pacific and drew on the life he’d left behind. The Call of the Wild, published in 1903, made him a celebrity at 27, and subsequent additions to his CV – candidate for mayor of Oakland, no-good husband, doomed sea captain and arthritic debauchee – were a matter of public record. London’s life had a mythic quality in the eyes of his contemporaries. Earle Labor, his latest biographer, who was born in 1928, sees him in this way too. ‘The careers of few writers,’ he writes, ‘mirror so clearly the American Dream of Success and the corollary ideal of the Self-Made Man.’

(Hat tip: Micah Mattix. Photo of London in his office via Wikimedia Commons)