This month, I want to talk about Time, and how it affects our creative lives. Last week I didn’t post because I was dealing with a medical issue, and I was told to rest. Could I type? Yes. Could I think up a blog post? Well, possibly but it might not have come out very well in the midst of my med-induced brain fog. Usually, I am one of those people who have a To Do list a mile long. Last week was no exception, but even though this was a thankfully minor issue with minimal recovery time, I decided to heed the message my body was giving me, and take the opportunity to rest and do things I wanted to do, rather than chasing down the endless “have-tos” and “shoulds.”
I had two whole days, Saturday and Sunday. Perhaps fortuitously, the quote of the day on my “Be Amazing” app was:
“During periods of relaxation… the intuitive mind seems to take over and can produce sudden clarifying insights.” - Fritjof Capra
So what did I do with my sudden windfall of time? I read (Julia Glass’ A House Among the Trees), I played word puzzle games online (the kind of thing I usually chastise myself for wasting time on), I watched movies and shows (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Mr. Holmes), I did some coloring to take my mind off words for a while, and I wrote.
I had been blocked in moving forward on my latest revision, frustrated in how to integrate some new elements and old ones. Perhaps because I didn’t sit down to my computer with the idea of pushing forward no matter what, feeling the pressure of time squeezed from my day, I saw the solution to the problem pretty quickly. I had to go back a couple chapters and do some minimal revision, but overall I was much happier with how the story was progressing, and the fact that it was progressing, no longer halted by my attachment to keeping a certain scene.
Many writers have heard the phrase “kill your darlings.” It’s easy to become attached to a character, scene, or other element that really isn’t pulling its weight. So, no matter how much we love it, it has to go. These can be difficult to see on our own, which is why outside readers can be crucial. But sometimes, when we take our time, and get quiet, we can see these things for ourselves. Would I have seen the solution eventually? I believe so. But slowing down, coming to it with less anxiety, and having the time to think about it helped.
Of course, we’d all like to have more time to write, and I’m a big proponent of grabbing time whenever you can, and not waiting to have some “perfect” amount of time. Often, when I have a large swathe of time, I tend to squander it, always thinking I’ll have time to write “later.” then the end of the day comes, and I’m tired, and cranky with myself because I didn’t write.
The lesson here is not in the amount of time, but the slowing down. When I sit down to write, I often have a word goal in mind. This is great, because it helps me focus quickly, especially if I have a time limit. I just have to start; I can’t noodle around for half an hour if that’s all I’ve got. That can be a great way to break through resistance: Just Do It, as the slogan goes.
However, there are times when it pays to deliberately slow our process. Take a few minutes to just breathe. Light a candle if you want to. Put on some soothing music. Close your eyes. Breathe in and out, focusing on the breath. If your thoughts wander, just note that, and come back to the breath. Simple mindfulness meditation. If your thoughts start wandering to your story, let them. See what unspools in your head. When you’re ready, go to your computer or notebook, and begin writing.
You can also do a form of writing meditation. Write longhand, on paper. Set a timer, and just write. You might start with a story problem or question. You might start with a list of all the things you have to do, or all the things you are worried about, or whatever else pops into your head. This “brain dump” can be very cleansing. It can pave the way for creative insights to come through. Eventually, in the middle of complaining about your day, you might say, “Ella could look for Lizzie instead of Jake.” Or start with a simple “What if…” and keep going, listing as many possibilities as you can imagine.
We need to remember that we can take our time, that creative wool-gathering is good, and that imaginations need space to be unleashed, like eager puppies who whine and sulk when kept under restriction too long. Despite the pressures we may feel to finish this draft, to use what precious time we have to do “real” work, we can remember that true creativity is flow, and like a river, it may rush in a torrent sometimes, and it may meander peacefully at others. Let yourself meander once in a while, and see what treasures may be uncovered.
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