Scenes from the Shelf by Galia Alena
Those who write rarely discuss the time issue because they know there is no such thing. You write, it's as natural as eating, breathing, laughing. In fact, you don't find this time at all, it seems to find itself. Those who feel a strong urge to write, and are not yet used to it, are often mentally trapped by the lack-of-time fallacy. I know this will sound preposterous because I do not know you, nor your work or domestic arrangements, but I can guarantee that you do have time to write. Plenty of time. Time in spades. Time to spare.
You're probably frittering away countless minutes during the day and you don't even realise it, or if you do, you want it to stay that way because happy habit builds comfort and joy. Who doesn't like half an hour in a café, a bit of online browsing, a movie in the evening, an outing with friends? Those things, and then some, make life enjoyable yet you needn't become Scrooge-like on the basis that you suddenly want to get serious about your writing. This time issue, dear reader, is a non-issue. It's a smokescreen. It's the obstacle that your eyes can see only when you look away from your target.
I have made some calculations based on a five-day week only, utilising some typical activities and in some places slightly conservative time estimates. I am sure you can come up with your own specific time audit and I recommend you do so, as this little exercise will first shock you and then get you into gear.
- Catching up with the news, on TV, online, on paper = 45' daily = 225' weekly
- Reading your favourite blogs and sites = 45' daily = 225' weekly
- Evening DVD or TV programme = 120' twice = 240' weekly
- Catch-up with the girls or guys = 120' = 120' weekly
- Gym/yoga/Pilates/dance class = 90' thrice = 270' weekly
- Social networking, texting, emailing, iPhone/Blackberry timewasters = 45' daily = 225' weekly
All of the above comes to a total of 1305' over five days, or 261' per day, or 4 hours and 35 minutes a day. Let's look at this more closely: 4 hours and 35 minutes a day to write. Amazing.
Now, allow me some artistic licence here. We both know that I have used an average approach but we also know that regarding some points above (2 and 6 for sure, probably 3 also), I have been more than slightly conservative in my estimates. As anyone who works online will tell you, 45' daily of browsing are unheard of. Most of us spend hours flitting from sites to blogs to tweets to faces to emails and back again when we could get a lot more done. Over at Gwen Bell a few weeks ago there was a discussion on digital downsizing. I urge you to have a look at how people have responded: there isn't one person who called for more mindless emailing, browsing, tweeting or any such thing.
Back to our 4 hours and 35 minutes. This is an ideal scenario. You cut all of the activities you have identified as extras and you get one huge chunk for writing. However, you cannot become a Tibetan hermit overnight in order to do so, neither do you really need to. This is why I suggest that you use a sensible approach. I for one much prefer to cut right down, as I have done, on all permutations of browsing time than to cancel a social outing or my daily yoga practice (mind you, my yoga happens in my living room and only for 30' daily, you do the maths). This means that I now get down to writing within five minutes from sitting at the Mac, as opposed to seventy. Seventy minutes to get off the starting blocks. Ridiculous, nobody needs that long but everyone seems to slide into it with great ease.
However, it's not all down to our inability to unplug ourselves. What about the kids-and-work lethal combo? Yes, what about it I ask you? A friend of mine is a working mother who spends all of her non-working time taxiing her kids from ballet to piano to swimming to drawing to football. She tells me she doesn't have time to shave her legs. I ask her whether the world would end if they skipped ballet one week or swimming the next or if someone else did the taxiing for a change or if they got the bus from school. She doesn't really have an answer. Thus she continues, her kids hyperactive as they never get two ticks of rest, her legs unshaven since I don't dare thinking about.
The moral of the story is that this lack-of-time problem is self-inflicted. There is no such thing as a lack of time. There is always time. There is plenty of time. Time waits for you to do something with your life. Time is right here, right now, continuously, always, as sure as the air that we breath. When I was working as a management consultant I would escape my desk at lunchtime and I would sit down to write on a bench by the pond. In the evening, I would return to my hotel room at past 10 (yes, crazy long hours in my ex-job), and I would write until I dozed off a scant hour later. There was time then, thanks to the gallons of coffee and despite the black under-eye circles. Time was on my side then, as it is now. Time is on your side too, waiting to be taken advantage of. Right this minute. Right now. Stop making excuses. Stop reading and start writing.