Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Critical Writing Skills: Time is on My Side

Quote: "Hear the ticking of the clock...the sound of life itself." Kamelot, The Human Stain

Song Playing: Time by the Rolling Stones (surely you saw that coming)

Despite my connotations with "Time" to the movie Fallen (great movie by the way, held up really well even after the Digital Age), I think it's quite fitting for today's post.

People complain about not having enough time. Time is one of the those non-renewable commodities; once it's gone, you're not getting it back. You can make more money, you can get healthy, but you can never get back time you feel you have wasted. The best you can do is learn from the experience and move on.

Almost as bad as that, there are many, many distractions out there to steal your time away. In today's age it's virtually impossible to avoid all distractions.

That's why one of the most important habits you can ever develop as a writer is to protect your time.

Learning how to improve your writing, learning the market, learning where the dictionary is are all important skills as a writer, but if you forever let other things get in the way of writing, you will never be a writer. Forget about publishing. You can't wait until you "have the time" to write, because that's like waiting for tomorrow to arrive. You have to make time. You have to squeeze time out of your day, like blood from a stone.

When I tell people that I am a writer, a good 50% of them tell me they've always wanted to write a book, but they've never gotten around to it. That makes me sad. It occurs to me that if they really really wanted to write, they would make the time, but still think there's a misconception that writers just sit down to write, and the rest of the world will arrange itself around you.

It won't. You have to fight for your time, however short or long it might be, and protect it like a mother bear protects her cubs (how many metaphors can I cram into this post? Let's see...). Even if you can only squeeze ten minutes out of your day, that is still 70 minutes in a week. You could write a novel in a year with that sort of time.

But only if you are consciously aware of how you're spending your time. I became a much happier person the day I started consciously using my time. If I sit down to vegetate for a half hour, I know that's exactly what I am doing. I no longer feel guilty when I sit down to relax, because I know how I am spending my time. Before, time would just slip away from me, and I wondered where it went.

Now I budget my time like I budget my money (there's another one), and I feel more relaxed for it. I know I have time to do what's important to me. Life events will snatch up your time if you let it, so be wary of time wasters.

I am not advocating that you lock yourself away in a hole and ignore your loved ones. You need to make time for other things in your life that's important to you (friends and family should probably figure on that list somewhere...they get cranky if you ignore them for some reason). I am suggesting you take a good look at where all your time goes, and then try to rearrange your day so you have time for what you want to do.

You might have to make sacrifices. Most writers aren't avid TV watchers not because we're pompous elitists, but simply because we don't have the time. There are a few TV shows I watch on a regular basis, because I enjoy them and sometimes I need to relax my brain, but I haven't just channel surfed in years, simply because I don't really enjoy TV and it's very time consuming. I'd rather be writing. Also, I have those shows on DVD so I can watch them on MY time, not on the TV's time.

Here's my suggestion for making the most of your time:

1. Make a list of all your activities. All of them. Include hanging out with friends, watching TV, everything you do for fun.

2. Make a list of all your chores. Include everything you have to do to keep the power on and food on the table. Cleaning, paying bills, etc.

3. Now, keep track of what you do for a few days, and how much time you spend doing them. Did you waste three hours watching TV shows you really didn't enjoy just because the couch is where your butt landed? Keep track of that.

4. Now, merge your activities and chores list. Keep things flexible, and don't plan your day too tightly, as that is a recipe for failure (been there, done that). Make your list according to what is the most important to you. For me, time with my husband and friends, writing and reading are the most important activities to me. So I make sure I have time to do that, and if something less important to me falls by the wayside (like keeping up with a TV show or the current movies), it's not a big deal to me. I am so behind on movies it's not even funny, but that's because I'd rather be writing. And I don't often have time for both.

You might notice gaps of time you're not using as well as you could in your time tables. Consider combining tasks. Do you have to have a cup of coffee to wake up in the morning? Why not read emails during that coffee time?

I won't say you'll have plenty of time for everything you want after you keep track of your time, but you will know where your time goes, and be able to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.

What about you? What measures have you taken to make sure you have time for writing?


  1. I cannot hear that song without hearing Elias Koteas sing it. I cannot see Elias Koteas and not think of him as Casey Jones from the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

  2. Yeaaaaaaaaaaah! Casey Jones! I had such a crush on him when I was a wee tween!