Friday, April 5, 2013

Time: How to Find It and How to Use It

We live in an age of "not enough time." How often have you said it? How often have you heard someone else say it, when you nod and murmur agreement? For anyone who writes, the phrase comes often, sometimes every day. But is it accurate?

Every writer needs time to write, think, rewrite, edit, revise, review, critique, and polish. There seems never enough time when I start writing, and I slog along wishing I had more time. But I'm starting to think this is one of those automatic thoughts, and I would do well to ignore it. When I stop to think about it, I find time in lots of corners of my day.

One morning last month, because of the snowstorm, I left for work three hours later than usual. These three hours were a luxury, and instead of doing something mundane like vacuuming or sorting laundry, I proofed a copy of the paper back of my newest work, Last Call for Justice: A Mellingham Mystery. I knew the text was correct, since I'd already read it through, but I wanted to go through each page to make sure no lines had fallen off, the pagination hadn't suddenly gone awry, and similar concerns. That took less than an hour.

After proofing, I took the time to review a short story I'd written several months earlier, sent out for review to a reader, and revised. It was ready to send out, but where? I spent half an hour considering where to send it, made a choice, and submitted it online to a literary journal. (I write all sorts of things, with and without dead bodies. This one was without, but it did feature a homeless teenager.)

Next came a friend's mss, which I had eagerly offered to read and comment on. She's been kind enough to read almost all of my work and I wanted to return the favor. I gave the story a first reading, made notes, and mentally scheduled a second reading for the next day, when I'd have had time to digest the first one. After that I had a little time left so I read. My current reading is Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn, a Jackson Brodie mystery.

I can't always count on a snowstorm to start my day, but I can find half an hour before I go to work to do one or two things--send out a short story, read a few chapters, make notes for a scene.

On my drive into work on that snowy day, I thought about the first draft of my current work-in-progress, which has been sitting on my desk for over two weeks. It's taken me over three years to finish the draft, and I have already made a mental list of the main changes I want to make. The ending is a little too perfect, unlike life, and in this mss I want the reader to come to the end and think, yes, this is how it would end; this is what would happen. I know I also want to strengthen the first chapter. Occasionally I hear perfect lines in my head and I hope I can hold onto them till I get to work, or can pull over and write them down. I am a firm believer in both hands on the wheel. I do not answer my cell or make a call while driving. (Warning: Do not call me on a cell when you're driving. I'll ask you to call back when you've parked the car.)

When I got home after work, I turned on my computer, checked email, viewed FB, and made a few notes for editing. I started dinner and left it simmering on the stove while I returned to my mss. Later, my husband and I ate dinner, he did the dishes, and I tidied up. After dinner I drafted this short essay. And now, as I come to the end of this piece, I'm glancing around for my book. I have fewer than one hundred pages left in Atkinson's mystery and want to finish it tonight.

Even without those extra three hours this morning, I would have completed almost all of the writing tasks I got through. My day is like anyone else's, with little pockets of time I can use for writing or for something else or for nothing. But since I'm a writer above all else, I'm going to use them to write, edit, revise, read, and more.

Would I like more time? Certainly. Do I need more time? I'm not sure. Having more time would be a luxury, but anyone who thinks he or she needs days and weeks of uninterrupted time in order to write will probably never write. Each one of us has many things to do, but if we want to write, we will. Writers write. That's what we do. We find the time, however much or little it is, and we use it. So when someone tells me he or she doesn't have enough time to write, I smile and nod, and then I think about making them a character in my next story. 


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Susan,

I read the description of your day. You obviously are a busy, productive person. You make the time you need by being disciplined. I believe that's the case with productive people. They make the time. Or as one of my friends once said: the more you do, the more you can do. And the opposite is also true!

Susan Oleksiw said...

Thanks for your comment, Jacquie. I think the key to a successful writing career is to write every day, no matter how much or how little time you have. I'd love to have more time, but I'll use what I have.

Jan Christensen said...

Great post, Susan. I remember reading once, "Ask yourself, what's the best use of my time right now?" You must have asked yourself that, even if subconsciously, and you sure accomplished a lot in those few hours. Good for you. And thanks for reminding me of that question.

bdtharp said...

Excellent blog. Thank you for reminding us that we usually do have a few moments to write (or edit) if we just use them wisely. A lot of work days I just run out of gas, so reading is my preferred activity. Take care & enjoy the journey.

kerry said...

Hello blog team,

Just letting you know that I have enjoyed following your blog and have nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. Find out more about the award by visiting the post on my blog where I have nominated you and linked back to your blog.

Mary F. Schoenecker said...

I admire the way you organized your time. Unfortunately - no snow here in Florida, but I have managed with organizational skills over the years. I especially liked your ending. Thanks for a good blog.