“Every year is getting shorter; never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines …”
A couple of lines from a Pink Floyd song. Seems apt for this topic.
Okay, so I didn’t put Time in my list of tools, but it is naturally the most essential requirement for writing and learning to write. It is a non-renewable resource that is ever flowing away.
I work on writing-related tasks every day. It is up to me. No one else can do it for me. Writing is my responsibility, my duty, one of my jobs. True, sometimes it seems like a gauntlet thrown at my feet by some inscrutable challenger, and I pick it up, knowing what is to come. But sometimes it seems like a chore, an odious, tedious, unproductive, meaningless, uninspired, stupid chore. At other times, it feels like what I was made to do, enjoyable or not. On occasion, I feel the rare exuberance of being completely where I need to be, where I am meant to be, doing what I should be doing, excited to produce, satisfied with my efforts, and reasonably confident in the worth of my work. Those are rare occasions, to be sure. But they are to be remembered and aimed for. It is difficult to convey or to explain.
So if anyone ever asks me what my most important bit of advice would be to a writer, it would be to work on your writing every single day. Sometimes it’s a struggle, sometimes it’s a pleasure. But if I mean to be serious about my work, my writing, then I should have the stance of one who has serious work to do. I cannot casually dismiss the work that needs to be done. If I miss two hours of work, I must pick up where I left off and perform that two hours of work, but I must also perform those hours of work that were to be done today anyway. It is a race, surely.
The quantity or quality of work may vary from one day to the next, from one hour to the next. I have learned that such unevenness is just the way it is, and I no longer fret too much about it. To my way of thinking, “half a page of scribbled lines” is better than a blank sheet. I may battle that half-page for hours, or for days. Sometimes I don’t make much head-way, I don’t gain a lot of ground. Sometimes I must give up, retreat, and regroup. That is work, too, and it is part and parcel of good sense when it becomes clear that it is necessary. So be it. It is the war, not the battle, though “wars are not won by evacuation,” as Churchill said in 1940. But such retreats, when they are necessary and successful, produce the conditions for regrouping and moving forward, having been delivered from an unproductive tack. “A victory inside this deliverance,” as Winston went on to say.
When it comes to tasks that are related to writing, but do not consist of composing or revising, the same creativity and determination must be applied, if at all possible. There are many such tasks. One must restock one’s supplies. Research must be performed. Publishing requirements must be studied. Formatting and manuscript preparation are necessary. These things may not count for very much in the column of creativity, but if I am to produce a story so that others can read it, they must be done. Time, then, must be devoted to these things ungrudgingly. At present, I am deeply engaged with such matters, and there is not a moment spent on them that I do not wish I was working on some passage or other, some new story or tale.
So it all boils down to attitude. Time is the space wherein we put our attitudes. Our stance toward writing, just as to everything else, is formed and supported by our attitudes. I strive to have one made of determination alloyed with bits of optimism and hope, and just a smidgeon of hubris. To be productive. To do good and honorable work. To provide in the end something that is worthy to endure for some little while after I am gone.
Okay, so in this post I have not really given any practical advice about “managing” your time. Instead, I wanted to provide a preface, after a manner, to what will follow. Time, after all, cannot be managed. Speaking from experience, I have found that you can only really manage yourself, and even that is difficult. In my case, it is like ploughing with a stubborn and willful mule that often wants to wander off the row. With the many tasks and chores and demands facing me, I must decide how I am to coordinate them, how to accomplish them, and how to move on to the next, how to keep that mule on track. All these “hows” begin with attitudes. Such are the reins that I must carefully guard and manage, that I must pull on and shake at times, and slack off and loosen at other moments during the ploughing. I am far from perfect, and I often flag and despair as my mule refuses to budge. Or I become angry and frustrated when he veers off toward some place more interesting or along an easier row. But when optimism fails, when hope flees and confidence is nowhere to be found, determination keeps me going. And when the mule is on track, when my reins are loose and my hands are on the plough-handles, when the mule is pulling strong and straight and the plough is turning the soil regardless of stones and roots, then all is well.
So that is my advice about time. Be determined to work every single day. It is a hard bit of advice, completely contrary to popular beliefs that require one to “take a holiday” on a regular basis. But remember, if you cannot work with your hands, that is, with your pen and paper, you can work with your mind. Yes, sometimes one must change one’s surroundings, see new places, hear new music, converse, read, and do all the other things that make life beautiful and rich. But take a moment at least, each and every day, to reflect upon your work, to ponder some problem or aspect of your work, and perhaps to jot down “half a page of scribbled lines.”
Thanks for reading!
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