Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

How to Find More Time to Write

How do you visualize time? Perhaps you see it as a bucket full of water, being drained? Or maybe you imagine it as a heat map with brilliant orange and red blobs interspersed with icy blue and green ones? Or possibly it's a calendar filled with writing on some days or blank boxes on others?

Me? I tend to see time as a line, running from left to right. In my mind's eye, "right now" is a circle straddling the line, about two-thirds of the way across. Anything before the circle, is the past. Anything beyond that circle is tomorrow, or later.

In sharing this visual image, I fear I'm revealing how doggedly linear and logical I am. Of course, it's a line and a straight one at that. And, of course, it goes from left to right, as do all Greek-based languages, such as English.

But as a result of my linear-logical thinking, I am very good at meeting deadlines. I don't miss them. I visualize the things I have to do in the future as little "dots"; on the right-hand end of my timeline, and I make sure I'm ready to finish them in plenty of time.

Even when I was a world-class procrastinator, back in my university days, I';d stay up all night if I had to, rather than miss a deadline. But I also needed the intense pressure of a deadline in order to be able to write a word.

My attitude toward time was, in short, slightly dysfunctional.

Recently, however, I've read a book that's given me a whole new way of thinking about time. The book is The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. Although it focuses on how to combat self-limiting beliefs, I found its insights into time to be the most compelling part.

Hendricks suggests that many of us take what he calls a Newtonian view of time. I'm no physicist, but I know that Newton argued that absolute time exists independent of any perceiver and progresses at a consistent pace throughout the universe.

But here's what Hendricks says about absolute time: "The Newtonian paradigm assumes that there's a scarcity of time, which leads to an uncomfortable feeling of time urgency inside us. It's exactly the same problem we would have if we assumed there was scarcity of food. We'd always be hungry, and we'd always be afraid there wasn't enough food available. . . In the Newtonian world, we're either "running out of time" or watching the seconds creep by."

Hendricks points out, however, that time is highly variable. For example, if we were sitting at a boring 25-minute speech or lecture, on a topic that didn't interest us, the event might feel as though it were four hours long. Time would appear to crawl. On the other hand, if we were watching a thrilling movie or attending a party that we really enjoyed, two hours might go by in what felt like 20 minutes. In short, time would fly.

To better cope with this dichotomy, Hendricks suggests that we all change our clocks to what he calls Einstein time. "Quit thinking that time is "out there," he says. "Take ownership of time — acknowledge that you are where it comes from — and it will stop owning you. Claim time is yours, and it will release its claim on you."

I find some of Henricks explanations a little pat and aw-shucks, but I've been following his suggestions for a few weeks now. And they're making a surprising difference. First, as he recommends, I've stopped complaining about time. I don't whine about how much I have to do (in too little time). I don't comment on the shortage of time to do things I most enjoy.

Second, I've stopped saying, "I don't have time to do that right now." First, time is not something I have; it's something I make. Second, what I really need to acknowledge is that I don't want to do something at that particular time.  As Hendricks puts it, if a six-year-old came up to me and asked to play catch, I might say no but if he came to me with a bleeding foot from having stepped on a rusty nail, I'd somehow find the time to help him.

Many of the writers I work with also have dysfunctional relationships with time. They tell me they don't have enough time to write. They find it difficult to project how long it will take them to complete various writing-related tasks. The ones who like writing but hate editing complain about how long editing takes. The ones who hate writing but love editing complain about how difficult writing is. But guess what? Everyone finds one of those two jobs easier than the other. How does complaining about it make it easier?

Face up to your particular writing challenges and take steps to deal with them. Once you admit to your challenges — once you own them — you will be able to make the time to address them. I've also developed a list of other steps writers can take to make more time.

Taking ownership of time is a small habit to form. And while the results aren't quite as ground-breaking as Hendricks suggests (he thinks this practice will help everyone accomplish much more in less time), I know the new habit has given me a healthier, more relaxed relationship with time.

And for that I am very grateful.


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of Your Happy First Draft. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Friday April 23rd, 9:25 AM
Comment by: Sam T. (Tucson, AZ)
And once you own it, you must protect it. Dan Brown (from his Master Class) says, Protect the Process.
Tuesday April 27th, 6:41 PM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
I'm not a big fan of Dan Brown, but I think he's very right about the need to protect the process.
Tuesday April 27th, 7:50 PM
Comment by: Sam T. (Tucson, AZ)
Yes. It's good to know that even the Master Writers who have produced (and sold) mega books, still have a routine that protects their writing process. Even in Middle school, when my classes would enter, they knew they would be expected to spend the first six minutes of class writing to my prompt. For some, that became a habit that they continued for years into adulthood.
Like reading your column, Daphne. It's habit-forming.
Friday April 30th, 5:47 PM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Aww, thanks for your kind words, Sam. And I LOVE to hear that you're helping your students form a lifelong habit of writing.
Friday April 30th, 6:06 PM
Comment by: Sam T. (Tucson, AZ)
I did that for thirty-six years, starting with 4th graders, and gradually moving up the levels to 7th and 8th. I retired in 1996. I continue to facilitate small groups of adults in writing and poetry.
Monday July 5th, 11:53 PM
Comment by: Martin G.
It's not that I don't have time to write. It's what to write. I picture myself time after time being laughed out of the picture, so I don't.
Tuesday July 6th, 12:50 PM
Comment by: Sam T. (Tucson, AZ)
Change your picture.

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