Digital Publishing · Self-publishing · The Writing Process

Time, Dr Who, and Writing – or Not, as the Case May Be

I sometimes swear I’m caught up in some kind of bizarre Dr Who-style time-bending experiment. I don’t know what’s happened to the space-time continuum, but it just doesn’t seem to be functioning as it once did. I can remember a time when the temporal gap between one Christmas and the next lasted for about – well, about twelve months actually: twelve long, glorious months stuffed full of exciting possibilities. Now I sometimes wonder if it’s even worth packing away all the festive decorations; before I know it, it’ll be time to put them all back up again.

Image credit: Sceptre | Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: Sceptre | Wikimedia Commons

Time is a peculiarly elastic thing. When you’re miserable, or trapped at a particularly dreary social event, or waiting for a delayed flight, it hardly moves at all. When you’re actually doing something enjoyable and/or worthwhile, like writing, it zips by. Hardly seems fair, does it?

This problem becomes even more stark when you’re trying to forge a career (I use the term loosely) as an author-publisher. When you’re self-publishing, your “to do” list has a tendency to become rapidly unmanageable. You have to write blog posts, tweets, and Facebook updates. You have to investigate all those lovely shiny marketing possibilities that you don’t currently understand, still less implement. You have to make choices about book covers, blurbs, and formatting. You have to whine ceaselessly about what a headache all these things are…

What to do, then? Here are some things that have worked for me; they might not work for everyone. They have to be used in conjunction with a degree of flexibility, because you can never be sure what’s coming next. Personally, I find it’s not really about managing time – sadly, not being a Timelord, I can’t manage time – but about managing my own choices.

Caught in the web

The internet, for all its benefits, can be an unbelievable time-suck. You start off innocently intending to spend a few minutes checking your emails, and before you know it you’ve wasted several hours doing nothing in particular. It’s quite a dilemma: we need the internet – living without it for any length of time has become unthinkable – but on many levels it’s made life much more difficult. It’s no coincidence that I got some of my best writing done during a week when my WiFi connection gave up the ghost, effectively banishing me from cyberspace.

I’ve recently got into the habit of setting an alarm during writing sessions. I set it for a short period – thirty minutes to an hour – after which I can have a break. The point is that during those short periods I do nothing except write. It sounds depressingly regimented – quite the opposite of fun, carefree creativity – but sometimes, if you want to get through the hard slog, you have to be quite regimented. Setting yourself a minimum word count per day – if it’s realistic – might also help.

For the more technically-minded, there’s a Google Chrome extension called StayFocusd (go to the Google Chrome Webstore to download it) that limits the amount of time you can spend on sites like Facebook, or wherever you go to skive during your working hours.

Image credit: S. Sepp | Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: S. Sepp | Wikimedia Commons

The depressingly bureaucratic list

I’ve recently begun to make a list every Sunday evening, in which I write down exactly what I want to achieve during the coming week. It really is depressingly bureaucratic; after all, can creativity really be arranged according to a schedule? Perhaps not, but my list does give me something to focus on, and it can be good in helping me to deal with all those niggling little administrative tasks that have nothing to do with creativity per se. Inevitably, I sometimes fall short of doing everything on my list, but it provides me with a set of clear goals – and the sense of satisfaction you feel when you finally cross an item off is wonderful.

Use the power

Depending on your body clock, you can try to match your work sessions to your own personal energy peaks. Some people like to write in the morning; others find that they work best in the evening. You might also be able to arrange your writing sessions to coincide with those times when there’s no one else around, and nothing to distract you. I suffer from insomnia, and frequently wake up during the early hours. This isn’t an entirely bad thing, either; at four o’clock in the morning, it’s wonderfully quiet. Nobody’s around. Nobody’s going to call orย ring the doorbell. I can work without distraction.

'Allegoria della Vita Umana' by Guido Cagnacci. Public domain image | Wikimedia Commons
“Allegoria della Vita Umana” by Guido Cagnacci. Public domain image | Wikimedia Commons

Plugging the gaps

Modern life entails a lot of what I call “dead time”. This is time spent on trains or planes, hanging around in airports, or waiting in dentists’ or doctors’ waiting rooms. Luckily, writing is portable, so you can take your laptop or notebook with you. I’ve found that it’s surprisingly easily to concentrate on your story in these places. They’re generally so miserable that you’re only too happy to disappear into your fictional world…

The Greenwich Meridian Line. Which is connected with time, I suppose. Image credit: Keith Evans | Wikimedia Commons
The Greenwich Meridian Line. Which is connected with time, I suppose. Image credit: Keith Evans | Wikimedia Commons

A room of one’s own…

…or a corner of one’s own, at least. Having a writing space really does help, I find. I’m a creature of habit. When I sit down in my writing space (the kitchen table, in my case), my mind almost automatically switches into “work” mode. This is no guarantee of success, but it does help…

These things haven’t solved the problem entirely, but they have helped. We’re all different, though, and we probably all have vastly different ways of managing, or at least attempting to manage, our time. What works for you?

This post was re-blogged from Authors Electric.


8 thoughts on “Time, Dr Who, and Writing – or Not, as the Case May Be

  1. This is fascinating, Mar. As so often, you bring together and state concisely vague disconnected thoughts that have been rattling around in my (largely empty) head. I love that ‘depressingly bureaucratic list’ of yours and a device to limit time wasted on networking sites. I have long had an eccentric idea; that time is in fact speeding up, and that our ‘culture of hurry’ is a symptom of this; but is there any way we can tell if when the clock says a second, it is shorter than it was a hundred years ago?

    1. Hello Lucinda, and thanks for commenting! Perhaps time is indeed speeding up, which would make a nice premise for a story. It would be bad news for a time-waster like me, though, as it would mean that I’d have even less time before I dropped dead…

      It’s a relief to hear that I’ve managed a lucid statement of anything at all, so thank you for saying that!

  2. You seem to have read my mind Mari ๐Ÿ˜‰ Lately, I have been thinking about how time seems to accelerate exponentially as we get older. I look back at things that occurred a couple years ago, and it still feels like it was just yesterday.

    All of your suggestions are really helpful. I especially identify with being caught in the web. It is so easy to procrastinate when you have such a vast tome of knowledge and distraction at your fingertips. I have been working to find my sweet spot (as far as time where my energy peak is the highest). I don’t think it’s at either extreme – early morning or late at night, but I am trying to hone in on it.

    And, if you ever need something to write about, a piece of your writing today has made me think – what if you were writing at 4am and the doorbell rang? What would that mean? Who would it be? I’m sure there is a story there somewhere ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. I’m sometimes really alarmed at how time is, or seems to be, accelerating, Dave. I can sometimes get quite morbid when I reflect on how quickly it all goes. And yet I’m quite happy to waste some of it completing silly quizzes (‘What crime did you commit in a past life?’) on Facebook!

      There’s definitely a story in the 4am doorbell summons. I might have a go at writing one, if (ironically) I find the time… ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Some great ideas, Mari. I like that egg-timer thing – I may have to investigate… Busy modern life with its demands and distractions really does make finding the time and head-space for writing a challenge. I have about five different writing spaces – it’s the kitchen chair as I write this…

    1. Hi Paul, and thanks for commenting. I hope you find the egg-timer idea useful. It works for me – sort of – but, as you say, cutting out the white noise of modern life can be difficult…

  4. I write during my commute to work. I get an hour and twenty minutes of uninterrupted time to dedicate to the craft. I have noticed that I have a tendency to include the sound of trains, or have characters actually be on some mode of public transportation when I am writing on the bus, though!

    I’m toying with quitting all social media except for my blog. I find Twitter and Facebook tend to make me focus on comparing myself and my achievements to those others are reporting. This just sends me into a spiral of chasing things I don’t even want, which in turn steals time and emotional focus from my writing. I have some nice conversations with a few people on those social media outlets, but I have a feeling that I could reach out to those individuals via email, and maintain or even deepen the relationship. It’s scary to think of something so “heretical” as leaving social media…. hence my not having done so!

    Also: Chrismas is really just over half a year from now! And, didn’t it JUST HAPPEN!?!? ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. Hello Aniko, and thanks for the comment! I really think there is much to be said for forgetting about most forms of social media, as they do tend to be distracting and demanding in terms of time. Heretical indeed, though, in this day and age … I’m not sure I’d have the courage to quit altogether!

      Christmas is indeed just over half a year in the past, and it will be back before no time at all – hard to believe, isn’t it? Scary…

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