How much is your time worth?

a room being painted
Writing, like painting, may take longer than you expect.
Photo: CC Jon Ross

Most of us tend to underestimate the time required to do a job well. Perhaps we overestimate our own abilities, or forget all the little tasks that form the larger project, or fail to take into consideration all the things that can — and usually do — go wrong, Murphy’s Law. Or perhaps it’s just wishful thinking overriding good sense.

Take, for example, the deceptively simple task of painting a room. Four flat walls of a few hundred square feet. One color; two, if you include the trim. Nothing fancy. How long can it take? A couple of hours at most.

But first we have to choose a color and type of paint, and then purchase the paint. And don’t forget the brushes and rollers, the drop cloths, the paint thinner, the trays. Then we have to move and cover the furniture. We have to lay drop cloths on the floor. Then we have to remove the covers for the electrical outlets and switches. We have to tape the windows. Are there nail holes or other defects in the walls? We have to fill and sand them. Will we need a ladder to reach the high spots? And all of this before we even open a can of paint.

We apply the first coat, and then the second. And then we have to undo much of what we’ve done: remove the tape from the windows, replace the outlet and switch covers, rearrange the furniture. Then we stand back and examine our work. Are there any drips, runs, or streaks? Do we need to touch up anything? Our two-hour job has turned into two days!

In this way, writing is like painting. At first glance, it appears easy. Anybody can put words on a page. But writing well takes time. Research, spelling, grammar, punctuation, and style all require some degree of skill and talent … and time.

How much is your time worth?

“Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain.”

Elie Wiesel, 1928 –