I tend to think a lot about time. Not time-travel -- though I do like to both read and write about time-travel.
This might sound a little grim (at first), but time is the one completely inflexible commodity we've got in this world. You're going to have exactly as many years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds as you're going to have. And that's it.
What we choose to do with our time -- or what our time chooses to do with us -- says a lot about how we live our lives.
Now. You're probably expecting some quasi-inspirational "make your time work for you" time-management post, where I try to help you organize yourself and squeeze a twenty-fifth hour out of the day so you can get all your writing done.
That's not what this post is about. Well, not really. Maybe by inference. Basically, you can apply what I'm going to write about, if you like, and it may help you find that mystical twenty-fifth hour we need to get all our stuff done -- but that's not what this post is about.
I like to think about my activities as falling into two categories: replaceable and irreplaceable time.
Replaceable time is anything you're doing that -- hey -- it doesn't matter one lick if you do it some other time.
Irreplaceable time is anything that, if you don't do it now, right now, it's gone forever.
So: spending an hour with your family or going to see your team in the World Series (if that's your flavor) would be irreplaceable time.
Parking on the couch and watching an old movie on television, that's replaceable time.
The problem is this: we, as a people, tend to spend a LOT of our time on the latter. Often, I find, at the expense of the former.
I think of my writing time (oh boy, here it comes) as irreplaceable time. I wrote for a couple hours last night and the words I got are words I would only have gotten by spending the hours I spent last night writing. If I'd been feeling poorly, or if Jessy had needed me to tend the baby, could I have written that particular scene, say, tonight? Sure. But it'd be different. And the scene that would have been would be lost forever.
It's worth noting here that I don't want you to drive yourself crazy always thinking "bloody hell, if I don't write RIGHT NOW I'm going to lose this genius scene forever and ever and ever!" Don't do that to yourself; if I'd gone to bed early last night, the scene I'd write today might have been just as good, if not better, but then I wouldn't be writing the scene I'll be writing tonight . . . and so on. Basically, it's a wheel and the more it turns, the better it turns.
So, do we do this as an exercise? Grab a notepad and pen and divy things up into two columns? Hell no. Most of this is common sense, after all. And hey, I am not trying to discount the absolute necessity for down time. For clarity: there are absolutely times when sitting and staring at the television (or browsing the internet) is necessary for one's continued sanity and presence of mind.
We all need down time.
The problem, however, comes when we're letting the things we'd fit into our irreplaceable time be submerged by the replaceable things. When we comfort ourselves and say okay, I'm just going to visit one more site and then I'll start writing. Well, that's fine -- but make sure you do kill the browser and get to work after that site.
I am guilty of failing to do this. Hey, it happens. Some days you just want to veg. And -- as I've written before -- sometimes it's okay to veg. Sometimes that's just what the creative part of your brain needs in order to be creative.
But the trick, the constant trick, the always trick, is to try and create the good habit of making sure the things you slot into the irreplaceable category (oh, admit it, you got a pad and pen) win out more often than not over the things in the replaceable side of the page.
I'm tempted to give you an example of some of the things I'd consider replaceable versus irreplaceable. That's a trap, though; once upon a time I'd boot up my Super Nintendo and play a half-hour of some Super Mario game before writing. Did it like clockwork. And it was the perfect mental sorbet to get the taste of the day out of my brain.
Helped me find the twenty-fifth hour.
What's one thing for me might be another thing for you.
And, honestly, it can change from day to day. If I'm knee-deep in a book I'm reading and I need to push through and finish it, no amount of willpower is going to let me sneak past that so I can write. But here's the thing: more often than not, when I give in and curl up to read, resigned that I won't be writing tonight, not ten minutes later the act of reading fuels a burst of inspiration which sends me hurtling to my laptop to get writing.
Basically, I think the important thing is to own your decisions. If you feel you need to watch that movie you've seen a hundred times before you can get anything done, go for it. Actually, here's a tip: if you're watching the movie (or show, or whatever) digitally, skip around and just watch your favorite bits. Or -- I do this a lot with episodes of Doctor Who -- just watch the last eight or nine minutes. That's enough to get the cool conclusion, enough to settle into your chair before working, but not enough to eat up the whole work session.
My intention is not to have you listing off the things in your life you can live without and then simply eliminate them. Writers aren't monks. We don't need to sequester ourselves away in a six-by-six cell for a year in order to churn out fiction. I'd argue that's bad for creating fiction. Writers need outside stimuli. We need to see what's going on out there. Spend too much time staring at your screen and you're just going around in circles.
But when you have a choice, when you're sorting out your day, prioritize the things that, if you missed them, they'd be gone forever. Play with your kids. Cuddle your significant other. And fit your writing time in there. Make sure writing is a thing necessary to your life and not a thing you'll get to later, if you have a chance, if you can fit it in.
Make sure your writing time is irreplaceable. Not at the cost of other irreplaceable things, but right there alongside them.
After-note: I used to work with this guy who once put in for twenty-five hours of billing in a single day. Basically, he worked on Friday until midnight, then got stuck on the job when someone else called in sick until midnight Saturday, at which point we were able to get a replacement on-site so he could go home and collapse.
When he put in his hours, he showed twenty-four hours of work for Saturday-- and one hour of travel time.
He discovered the twenty-five hour day. I've always been jealous.