Writer Wednesday: Time is Elastic

“I never want to see anyone, and I never want to go anywhere or do anything. I just want to write.” 

– P. G. Wodehouse

I am overcome by this feeling a lot. Especially in times like the present where other demands have taken up a lot of my time. There are never enough hours in the day!

Chances are you know that feeling, too. It’s frustrating. You dream of the day you’re a full-time writer and all this will be behind you. The thing is, it won’t be. You imagine the long days of inspiration-fueled writing in your study or your fabulous country cottage or downtown loft, sending off your completed novel/volume of poetry/script and then enjoying a glass of wine.

Thing is, if you’re a full-time writer, you’re also a full-time business. In addition to writing, you’re going to have to have meetings with editors, agents, publishers, publicity folks and your accountant, and do readings or other appearances, write your own PR materials in many cases (blurbs and synposes? what most writers hate more than anything!) and answer a lot of email.

So you’ll need to be mindful of your writing time even when you are a success — perhaps even more so. You may not have to steal as much time as you do before everybody knows your name, but you will likely find yourself in the position of turning down more opportunities that would take up too much of the time you need to hoard for writing.

Here’s what I have learned about time: it is elastic. I think teaching brought that realisation most sharply to my attention. When I accidentally left less time to complete an exercise, it got done just as competently as ever if the students were adequately prepared. You already know this: when you’re having a grand time and suddenly you notice the clock, you always think Well, that hour flew by! Likewise when you’re in a meeting you’d rather not attend and a well-known bore is droning on and on and one until you wish you could stab needles in your eyes or ears, you’ll look up and find the clock is actually moving backward.

It’s true.

You can use this to your advantage (to some extent, it won’t help with meetings). If you say I’ve got an hour to write something, you will take that hour to write it. Your brain is like a lazy teen-ager (industrious teens, I don’t mean you). It will take as long as you give it. Fool that lazy part of your brain. Tell it you’ve only got fifteen minutes — and oh, I don’t know — the world will end if you don’t get this paragraph/500 words/poem written.

We are fundamentally lazy creatures; it’s a way of conserving energy. But the more you accustom your muse to being ready at your call when time is short, the more you can avoid waffling and meandering. I make my writing students do a lot of free writes, timed writings where they are not allowed to stop at all, just keep the fingers moving even if it becomes gibberish. It’s good training (I often do it with them; I also write abstracts during meetings). Even if you’ve been writing a while, sometimes it’s a good idea to go back and discipline your muse with some calisthenics.

A limber muse can help you stretch whatever time you do have.

[Yes, I know it’s actually Thursday >_< the days are just packed!]

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