When you’re deep in the midst of flow, you have no awareness of time passing. Your mind, intentions, and will connect, and time, as they say, flies.
It’s the rest of the time that turns us into philosophers as we try to make peace with time.
Coming to an acceptance of how you use and misuse your time, as a writer, is a daunting prospect. Making peace with the way you think about your work as a writer can be something we really just don’t ever let ourselves dwell on; after all, the word ‘writing’ is a verb. When we want to write, we’re supposed to be doing something associated with writing, ‘doing’ being the operative term.
How you imagine the concept of time has everything to do with your identity as a writer. Time does not seem like much of a metaphor when a clock ticks loudly nearby. Time is not a philosophical construct when you’re brushing your teeth—but we don’t think about the amount of time brushing one’s teeth requires. We’re too busy doing it to think about the nature of time, or to think that the amount of time we spend doing quotidian tasks, applied to writing, would seem inadequate to the task of writing (or so we believe).
Those who write must think consciously and deliberately about time— resistant or reluctant writers even more so—because the idea of time fills our thoughts in a way it does not for any other pastime. We become obsessed with the amount of time we have to spend writing. We measure the quality of the way time passes. We assess each moment critically, asking ourselves whether we’re ‘doing’ anything purposeful. Writers, and those who want to write, but aren’t, are terribly aware of
as though the sun were perpetually sinking beneath our personal horizon.
Those who want to write are painfully aware of how little time is available to do the one thing they’ve decided they most want to do. When it comes to writing, we give time an awful lot of power, if you think about it. Ask yourself if there’s any other task in the course of your day you glorify in this way? If you break down the way you spend each minute of the day, you’ll find that you really don’t need anywhere near as much time to get something written as you might believe you do.
And yet, the illusion prevails that we must allot a significant amount of time to the task if we’re to give our writing the attention it deserves. It’s the way we think about writing in the first place that creates our perception of time. I see this belief often, in aspiring writers in particular. Until the writer makes peace with time and gets control over the emotions that prevent him from doing something as straightforward (yet difficult) as believing that fifteen minutes a day will lead to a finished manuscript soon enough, he will continue to procrastinate about his writing project.
The key to managing your sense of time when you want to write is to make an appointment with yourself. However, to do that, you have to first take yourself and your need to write seriously. I believe this is the most difficult hurdle for too many writer-wannabes. It’s difficult even for those who are familiar with this process, who know what to expect. There are too many hurdles, and too many books tell you some version of “oh, quit wallowing in your fears and just get on with it!”
The writer who lets himself believe that unless he has a full year of completely free days to write his novel is trapped in a perception that amount of time available to complete a task equals quality of outcome. In no other area of life do we make that belief limit our behavior as severely as we do with writing. It’s because of our beliefs about what writing means, what it entails, and what the doing of it requires that we tell ourselves we don’t have enough time to write.
It’s only when you begin to think of yourself as a writer, and at the same time, discipline yourself to see writing as a task that can be accomplished within a set amount of time each day (a half hour, for example; no more, no less—it’s important to break down the task into manageable chunks of time) that you begin to get some control over your ideas about how writing and time are interwoven.
Once we stop putting writing on the mystical pedestal we have it on, and turn it into a task that requires only a reasonable amount of time each day to effect the perfectly reasonable outcome you desire, which is to emerge, over time, with a publishable manuscript, we’ll see writing for what it is: a technē, an ability we can hone and polish with care and time.
Come to the task of writing believing that you will best accomplish your eventual goal, whether it is to publish one novel or fifteen articles, by:
#1: Breaking down your larger goal down into reasonable, manageable units of time. Fifteen minutes a day is completely adequate until you’ve built up enough material to build on.
Don’t overwhelm yourself by saying, “I have to write the Great American Novel in one year.”
You very well might write the Great American Novel in one year, but not unless you determine ahead of time how much time you can reasonably spare each day to get some—not all; not a chapter, maybe not even an entire page, but some—writing done.
It is entirely realistic to think you can write a novel in one year, and/but it will require self-discipline, and self-discipline means you cannot give in to the mystique that the “best” writing can only be done with a free year of no outside work impinging on your time.
Most writers of great renown were working at some other job when they wrote their first, second, and even third or fourth novels. Don’t quit your day job, not because you lack talent, but because you do not have to.
#2: Placing a boundary around your work: set up a space and time that is inviolate and cannot be interrupted or affected by the outside world and its demands. Take your needs seriously, and don’t be swayed from your goals.
#3: Thinking about your relationship to time. Do you think about time philosophically? Metaphorically? Philosophical attitudes to the passing of time allow us to see our use of time from a larger perspective. It’s difficult to panic about having enough time to write when you know, with certainty, that you will have all the time you need—you simply have to believe it.
#4: Asking yourself, what metaphors do you use to describe time? Do you “spend” time? Do you feel that time “has gotten away” from you? Listen carefully to the metaphors you use to describe time; they will tell you a great deal about the attitudes you have that hold you back from believing in yourself as a writer.
Most importantly, do not intimidate yourself into the fear that you cannot do this. You can.
- Creating a Career Plan for Writers (chipmacgregor.typepad.com)
- Why do you want to be a writer? (writingthroughmyeyes.wordpress.com)
- Break through Writer’s Block! (writingthroughmyeyes.wordpress.com)
- Collaborative Writing #8: Sense of Time (flowingwriter.wordpress.com)
- Free-writing? (noprideplease.wordpress.com)
- Having trouble writing, or keeping a writing scedule? Try this. (writingthroughmyeyes.wordpress.com)
- Harvesting our Creative Potential by Gene Lempp (aroundofwordsin80days.wordpress.com)