Time is a Four-Letter Word

I know. I’ve written about time before. I probably will write about it again. It’s that important. Writing takes time – between day-job and daily commute, between cooking/eating/showering/sleeping, between family and friends and home maintenance, there’s blogging, reviewing, researching, brainstorming, writing and editing and rewriting.

That was the point of my previous post. This time, I want to add a caveat.

You need to make time for yourself.

Let me say that again. You NEED to MAKE TIME for yourSELF.

I read recently (in The Kill Zone Blog, James Scott Bell), that writers need down time in order to be creative. Makes perfect sense, right? Of course it does. I would have argued for this point even as I denied it to myself, running hard-as-I-could toward the next self-imposed deadline. I guess I’m the obsessive type. But reading Bell’s comments on the benefits of relaxation rang a bell (no pun intended) for me. I’ve thought about it over and over since. It totally explains why some nights I just can’t write. No matter how hard I try, it just isn’t there. If I force the issue, I always end up rewriting what I just labored over for hours.

So I’ve learned to listen to that whisper – or shout, as the case may be – and walk away from the keyboard when it comes. Even so, I feel guilty. As if I’m shirking.

I’m not. I’m not. I’m really not. (Talking as much to myself as I am to you.) So I’m learning to use my “off-time” wisely, in ways that stimulate the creative juices under the surface, so that they feed and/or inform my work.

Let me clarify that I’m not talking here about directed “unfocused” time inserted into your normal writing routine, where you take 10-15 minutes away from the keyboard to refocus (also a very good idea and highly recommended by the voices of experience). I’m talking about deliberate mini-vacations from your writing time to recharge your own batteries.

Doing what, you ask? Lots of things come to mind, but I do have a few favorites.

I used to be an avid reader. Once I decided to write, I thought I had no more time to read. All that “spare” time needed to be focused on putting out my own books or stories. Hah! Experienced voices in the writing world laughed me down, figuratively or literally, and I eventually listened. Now I am always reading something. Stephen King says he never goes anywhere without a book. I’ve taken his advice. Armed with a Kindle and a library card, I always have something to read. It’s handy on the treadmill, or in a waiting room, or during my lunch hour, or in bed before falling asleep. Sometimes, I read just because I want to goof off. It helps to unplug from my own work-in-progress.

But reading isn’t the only thing I do to disconnect from the drive to write. I love to sit in the evenings with Hubby and just watch mindless television or, on occasion, a great movie. I go to the gym three times each week, where I spend equal amounts of time sweating and socializing with friends. I love to go for long walks with my friend William. We talk about politics (blech!), our daily lives, our respective projects, philosophy. I have to say, though, that Nature soothes me best. Hubby and I have an annual family membership at the local botanical gardens, and I use it liberally. An hour of walking through the beauty there is true balm for my spirit. And I’ve reconnected with my personal journey to the Divine.

How do these activities contribute to my writing?

If you already utilize this practice, you’ll know the answer. If you don’t, I suggest a challenge to you. Read Bell’s blog post (linked above), then find your own method of “loafing” and try it for a month. Afterward, write to me here and tell me how it affected your work.

Also, look for my posts to start veering into some of these other topics. So many things from our daily lives inform and guide our writing, don’t you think? I plan to start including those other things here, where I hope we can explore them together.

That’s all for now. I hear the siren song of my current book (Fingerprints of God, by Barbara Bradley Hagerty—review coming soon). I think I’ll kick back and read a while.