School is back in session, and as you might have noticed if you’re a regular here at Pavorisms, it’s taking a toll. My writing has suffered a vicious setback at the hands of being back to work and will likely continue to be set back until I get a handle on a new routine for the year. That said, today’s topic for “Things Writers Need” is particularly salient.
Today’s thing is time, bloody precious uninterrupted sacred time. Time to make deadlines, time to think up story ideas, time to actually write the blighted thing. Specifically, I want to talk about the actual time you need when actually actively writing.
Let’s get this straight. Writing is HARD. Even when you’re writing about something you love, it’s knuckle-whitening, teeth-grinding, marathon-running HARD. The best writing is a greased pig with a hot poker applied to its nether bits; it darts this way and that, wails like crazy and will kick mud in your face the moment you think you have a handle on it. Even if you do manage to lay hands on the thing, without the utmost focus it will twist right out of your arms, leaving you sprawled in the mud and wondering whether the sweet savory taste of bacon is worth all the trouble. (It is.) You can’t corner it. You can’t strategize it. You just have to chase after it and hope to get lucky enough to scoop it up every now and then before it leaves you in the dirt. Every once in a while the magic just happens. But it can’t happen if you don’t have time to chase the pig around the yard.
The fact that I am realizing lately more than ever before in my life is that time is a fixed, non-renewable and ultimately precious resource. Life is filled up with so very many things we must do that it can feel like a mug’s game trying to decide what to do with the time you have left over. Writing, sad to say, takes up a lot of time. Even on a good day, I can get maybe 1000 words an hour. Measure that against the novel I just drafted at 89000 words and that’s ninety hours at a minimum, but let’s be more pragmatic and assume it was closer to a hundred and fifty. Where does a guy with a full-time job and two full-time kids get that kind of time?
You get it at the expense of other things. You have to cannibalize the things you hold most dear and use the sweet sweet time you harvest from their still-breathing husks to do the thing that matters. My thing is video games and TV. I’ve been a video game junkie since I was five years old and played my first round of “Skier”, in which you steered a pixelated blob down a white expanse dotted with pixelated tree-like green things and pixelated brown lumps and pixelated H-shaped things which somebody assured me you were supposed to navigate between but I was too busy crashing my pixelated blob guy into trees and cackling like a Bond villain to care. (Seriously, ask my dad about my experiences with “Skier” and he will laugh until he’s blue in the face.)
And TV, holy god! I used to think that TV was a drain on my life before we got Netflix. Now it’s a ravenous all-consuming black hole. On one side you’ve got brilliant network shows one-upping each other with crime dramas and sitcoms, on another side you have cable shows pumping out blistering tour-de-forces in character study and horrible dark drama, on another side you have premium channels hawking epic escapist fantasy and historical fiction, and then there are the on-demand streamers giving you a smorgasbord of bizarre and compelling no-holds-barred excursions in the secret lives of everyday people. I really think one could watch eight to ten hours of television a DAY and still miss out on some of the incredible programming that’s coming out of TV in the last ten years or so. I say that not as a rant against television but more as a statement of awe. There’s SO MUCH GOOD STUFF out there. As a writer, watching a good show is research, right? RIGHT??
Point is, it has to go. Or at least, most of it has to go, because, see, if you want to create, you need large, unbroken swathes of time to let your mind stretch out in. You need to be able to stew in your thoughts, to fart around with your characters and work on the Gordian knot of tangled plotlines and entrapments that your stories turn into. I’m not even talking about the actual act of writing, I’m talking about just thinking about writing. You have to carve out these huge chunks of time in which to operate. Writing isn’t a microwave dinner, it’s a slow cooker. You can’t catch ten minutes here, twenty minutes there and expect to turn out Hamlet. (I understand that some writers work that way, and bully for them. Honestly. But how much better could they be if they didn’t have to write that way?)
I read a fantastic article a few months back on NerdFitness.com (yeah, ‘net browsing is another thing that could do with some cannibalizing) called “Why ‘I don’t have time’ is a Big, Fat Lie”. Steve Kamb has it right here. It’s true. So true, it hurts. In short, the article encourages you to change the way you think about time. We all have the same amount of time in our day, no matter how much we might wish it otherwise, and some of us are doing amazing things with that time and others are withering on the vine. Instead of saying, then, that “I don’t have time” to write that novel or run those three miles before work or cook that nice dinner, Steve encourages you to say instead “it’s not a priority.” Because we make time for the things we prioritize, even if the decision to do so is not a conscious one. Sitting on your donk and watching TV or playing a video game gobbles up your precious time, so while you’re doing that, you’ve made it a priority. This is not to say, of course, that TV or video games should be eschewed entirely. Far from it. (TV is research, right??) But we (and by “we” I mean “I,” and by “I” I mean “writers,” and by “writers” I mean “everybody”, really) have to make time for the things we want to do even when the making of time is difficult. And I really shouldn’t say “make time”, because the time is just there. You just have to steal it away from the other unimportant sharknado in your life that wants to steal it first.
So you have to fight for your time. In full battle-armor and with broadsword polished and flailing and a tiny little holdout dagger in your belt ready when the fighting gets really gnarly, if necessary. You have to carve that time out of your schedule anywhere there is meat left on the bone, and when there is no meat left, you might just have to cut the bone, too. I operated on six hours of sleep most nights this summer because I’d stay up late writing after sprout #2 went to bed late and then wake up early when sprout #1 popped out of bed like a happy tornado at six AM. (Of course, my wife operated in staccato bursts of two hours of sleep at a time, so I bow to her masterful experience there!) It sucked, but I got it done. I’m trying to find the groove now for being back at work with two kids at home leaving footprints in the jello, and it’s difficult, but I’ll find that groove somewhere.
However you find it, you have to make writing the priority, and that means you have to make the time to do it. That’s the bottom line. Writers need time to do what they do if they want to do it well. If you’re a writer, you have to claim that time however you can. If you’re dating or married to a writer, well… maybe cut him (or her!) a break once in a while. Give him (or her!) an hour’s break from the kids — take ’em to the park or something — or take a girls’ or guys’ night, or I dunno, build him (or her!) a temporal displacement chamber in the basement so that he (or she!) can by god create more time and get some damn writing done, paradoxes like meeting your future self or becoming your own grandfather be damned.
No, seriously, if anybody has any leads on that temporal displacement thingy, let me know.