Jessica Francis Kane, writing in The Atlantic, talks about a Marcus Aurelius quotation that she took to heart:
Book 8, #36
Do not disturb yourself by picturing your life as a whole; do not assemble in your mind the many and varied troubles which have come to you in the past and will come again in the future, but ask yourself with regard to every present difficulty: 'What is there in this that is unbearable and beyond endurance?' You would be ashamed to confess it! And then remind yourself that it is not the future or what has passed that afflicts you, but always the present, and the power of this is much diminished if you take it in isolation and call your mind to task if it thinks that it cannot stand up to it when taken on its own.
I thought about how Marcus Aurelius's concerns and mine differed, but I was inspired by the idea that the spirit of them, separated by so many centuries, was similar. His words helped me get to the desk, and stay there, during all the years it took me to write my first good story. Writing is hard, but is it unbearable? Who would say that it is? Even asking the question, I'm reminded of the one exclamation in the passage: "You would be ashamed to confess it!" His words helped me navigate rejection, which is certainly no fun, but if you ask yourself if it's unbearable, you find yourself preparing the next self-addressed stamped envelope pretty quickly. The words helped me survive the protracted sale of my first novel, and they reminded me to start writing again after a long hiatus after the birth of my first child. I wasn't sure how to make room for writing with a baby. It is difficult, but beyond endurance? I got myself back to the desk.
Personally, I think nothing prepared me for writing as well as studying the Victorians. Not because they invented the world as we know it (in many ways they did), or because their work was awesome (though it was), but rather because they got so much done. Tomes, multivolume histories, three-decker novels. Theories, scientific discoveries, expeditions, surveys. Buildings, massive urban redesigns, vast public buildings, and more than a few dark Satanic mills. New ways of seeing the world, of traveling it, or recording it.
And they still managed to take month-long vacations, or at least have high tea. The older I get, the more impressive that part is-- and, I begin to suspect, the more important it is for understanding why they were able to get so much done. It wasn't just the absence of television or Facebook. My intuition now senses that they were productive because they had a better sense of when to quit for the day. They could be more productive because they were more measured.
Granted, I have absolutely no real evidence for this, and I'm sure it'll be years before I can really chase it down, but their lives were about as well-documented as you can get without FitBit and SenseCam, so I'll bet you really could study their work habits, how much time they spent at work and play, how they saw the differences between the two, and how it made them great.