Time is On My Side (Or is it?)

Can’t you just hear Mick Jagger’s rousing voice now? Of course he was only twenty years old when he uttered these famous words; plus, he was referring to the inevitability that a lover would return to him. But in essence, time has been on Mick’s side, hasn’t it? How else could he take part in the production of one-hundred singles, over two dozen studio albums, various compilations and live albums, and not to mention the fathering of an inexplicable amount of offspring? Besides, fifty years later and Mick (along with the Stones) are still touring, performing, and rocking out.

Pretty impressive. Not going to lie.

Photo Source: newyorkchronicles.blogspot.com

But this isn’t about the prowess of The British Invasion. It’s about the life of the average writer—particularly those writers leading a presumed double life, i.e. day jobs, parenthood, general housekeeping—and his or her capricious relationship with time.

Over the weekend I went to Sears to pick up my newly repaired watch. As I forked over the fifteen dollars it hit me: I’m actually paying someone to provide me with yet, another device to tell time. There’s a clock in every classroom at the college where I teach. My husband and I have two alarm clocks in our bedroom. Downstairs in my kitchen, I sometimes feel cross-eyed staring at the double digital imprints on the stove and microwave. Our cable box tells the time. If I turn on the television and go to the preview channel, I can see the exact hour, minute, and second of the day. Sometimes TD Bank even offers a courtesy update in between commercials. My car shows the time. This laptop I’m currently writing on shows the time. My iPhone has clock app. If interested, I can view the time in the Philippines.

mrceviz → in Graphics

It’s no wonder so many people I know (myself included) are near-lunatics. The constant ticking and tocking and shifting numbers are forever reminding us of the things we haven’t yet done, of the things we’re supposed to be doing. As a writer—particularly one who aspires towards publication—this obsession with time has had some pretty negative impacts on my psyche.

Many of us have been asked this question: what is your biggest fear when it comes to writing? Some obvious answers might be “failure,” “success,” or “failure to reach success,” or even, “successfully reaching failure.” Others might say, “Never being good enough,” and “not finding an agent,” etc.

In hindsight, my personal writing fears have always been rooted in Time. Not finishing in time. Not finding the time [to write]. Or worse, not making time to write—in essence, wasting time. Wasting precious, valuable time. Not using enough time. The list goes on.

Consequently, this fear often spirals out of control into some sort of wicked slippery slope. The ‘what if’s’ run rampant and in a span of two minutes “time” I wind up feeling depleted, doomed, and hopeless.

It sounds something like this:

How could that author finish an entire, polished manuscript in only nine months? Well maybe if I had all day every day to write then I would too. Oh my God, I’m thirty years old and I have nothing to show for it. The publishing industry is changing faster than I can write and what if by the time I’m finished with my book no one is reading anymore? Everyone is just watching cat videos on YouTube? What’s the point of investing all this energy into something people don’t even do anymore?!

Every time I open my inbox I get flooded with offers—webinars on the ‘craft,’ books on snagging an agent, methods for improving characterization, tips to enhance social media! At this rate, it’ll take me a decade to master all this stuff, never mind actually write a novel…what if I compose an amazing story, written brilliantly, but I get rejected because I’m lagging in social media? What comes first? Chicken? Egg?

Not to mention with all these other things on the horizon—buying a new house, selling this house, and starting a family, what if I lose track of my goals? I’ll end up putting it off and putting it off and next thing I know I’ll wake up one day and I’ll be seventy years old and no one will be reading anymore because the world will have gone to s**t and in fact no one will even be talking to each other anymore, let alone reading, we’ll have the attention spans of fish and…and…and…it’ll all be lost, and I’ll say, Man! I wish I had spent more time on this when I was thirty….

Merelize → in Objects

And so it goes. It’s one thing to write, it’s another to revise and edit. Even still, there’s mastery of the craft. All of this takes…you guessed it, time. And this is why I fear time. I don’t fear failure, actually. I fear not having the time to fail. I don’t fear rejection. I fear not having enough time to be rejected.

But at least I’m discovering that this is a counterproductive way of thinking. In all the time I spend seething about my lack of time, I could be well, doing something about it.

I’ve discovered some “truths” to help this issue of time when it comes to writing.

1. The writing industry IS competitive. But that’s a good sign, because it means that there are thousands upon thousands (probably millions, in fact) of literary types out there that want to keep this craft alive. And where there are writers, there are readers.
2. Some of the greatest novels I’ve ever read took the author years to write.
3. As long as I’m doing something towards my writing goals each day I’m making good use of my time. Even if it’s simply subscribing to a helpful blog.
4. It helps tremendously to ask myself where I was in the writing process one year ago today. This shows me how far I’ve truly come

Then of course there’s Mick Jagger. You could always reflect on that guy’s life. Because, be it as it may, The Rolling Stones know how to make good use of time.

Osama Hasan Khan → in Objects

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite quotes on “Time”:

“All that really belongs to us is time; even he who has nothing else has that.”
-Baltasar Gracian

“An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth.”
-Bonnie Friedman

“Calendars are for careful people, not passionate ones.”
-Chuck Sigars

“If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.”
-Maria Edgeworth

“We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch.”
-John F. Kennedy

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15 Comments

Filed under Why We Write, Writing Fears, Writing Process

15 responses to “Time is On My Side (Or is it?)

  1. I can relate to this post, as I’m sure many others can. I’ve had those fears about time in regards to writing as well. One of my biggest anxiety triggers is, “What if someone else puts out a book similar to mine before I’ve had a chance to submit it?” Great. Now I’m thinking about that right now… 😉

  2. Oh no, I’m sorry! Good point, actually. I’ve had that thought as well. But it’s not likely, because every novel is so unique to its particular author. I mean if it’s a deliberate mimic of another story, that’s not good. But if you wrote it with your own intentions of originality, it’s likely no one else will come close to it! But I hear you. Another aspect of the writing life to worry about! At least I know I’m in good company 🙂

  3. Natylie Baldwin

    I love this post for so many reasons. First, this is one of my favorite vintage Stones songs. Also, I can relate to the anxiety you expressed so well about having enough time to write and using it wisely, etc. That, along with moments of I-suck-and-don’t-have-what-it-takes-to-finish-this-project syndrome are my biggest stressors as a writer right now. I’m on a revision of my first novel and have a general idea what I need to do to improve the manuscript but am afraid I won’t be good enough to do what needs to be done effectively to polish it up. Hence, I find myself avoiding and wasting time.

    I also loved your Four Truths. I, especially, need to keep reminding myself of the first two.

    • Thanks Natylie! It IS a great vintage Stones song, isn’t it? Yes, the fears get in the way as well…as you expressed it, the “I suck, etc.” syndrome. That happens to me too. That is usually the point I start to fret about TIME though. It starts to be, “I suck, blah, blah, blah, and I have NO time to get any better!” That’s why for me, it all boils down to time. When I don’t feel that I have enough of it, all other fears start to take over.

  4. I always used to wear a watch, until, as you pointed out, there was rarely a moment when some device wasn’t reminding me how much closer I was to shuffling off the mortal coil. Luxury and vacation and relaxation always seem to involve the ignorance of time.
    I find the hand wringing over the publishing industry to be a bit premature for me, but Nos.3 & 4 are on my list as well. I can no longer imagine a day without writing – that’s a tremendous leap from a year ago. I enjoyed reading this post. Thanks!

    • Yes, I should probably wear my watch less often! It’s not like I won’t be able to tell the time without it. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I agree, I no longer have days where I don’t think about writing. Unfortunately, way too often these thoughts aren’t doing me any good! But writing about them on this blog and getting great feedback always helps. So in essence writing is the cure for my writing conundrums 🙂

  5. Lots of great stuff in this post!
    I agree with so much of what you say. The strangest thing is though, once I get into the words and the story, time has a way of disappearing. I’ll emerge on the other side dazed, happy, and oblivious to how much time has passed while I wrote. There might even be a bit of that sentiment in Mick Jagger’s words: Time really is on the side of the artist. (By which I mean the writer, the musician, the painter …)
    And, at thirty, you really do have a LOT of time!
    (Now I think I’ll go watch some cat videos. 😉 )

    • Thanks Kirsten! Don’t watch cat videos! You’ll never get that time back! LOL. I haven’t had that notion of time disappearing as I wrote in a long while. I do recognize that feeling…I’ve had it. It usually comes with first drafts. It’s revisions that get me nutty. I like what you said about time being on the side of the artist. Great insight as usual!

  6. I soooo relate to this, only I’m twice your age, and rapidly realizing that time IS NOT on my side anymore. But then even when a was your age, I had the sickening feeling that I was wasting precious time all-the-time, and now I have little in the way of the kind of writing I always meant to do to show for it.

    So feel GOOD about where you are at now, because you are so much ahead of some of us who have “wasted” more time than you have in “not-writing.” Also, believe me, having all day to write (as I do literally have now) to write, doesn’t guarantee you will actually spend all day writing–so many things jump up to claim my time, including a lot of just plain “fiddling away” the time, as I appear to be doing now while reading and responding to blogs! BUT, I love this part of the writing life too.

    Honestly, I think I am a lot less freaked out about passing time, and wasting time now, than I was when I was your age–not sure why . . . .

    • Thanks Deborah–this really helped! I “fiddle” time away as well. Because quite honestly I do have pockets of time during the week where I could be doing more, etc, but it’s like you said…things come up, I make excuses, blah, blah, blah. I guess that’s just the nature of it all. So I think you’re right–even if I DID have all day, who’s to say I would actually write all day? Interesting how your view on time has changed over time…I wonder if my view will change as well. I sure hope so, because I’m driving myself nuts. I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to this stuff! 🙂

  7. This is precisely why I don’t wear a watch. (Damn that clock at the top of my computer screen!).

  8. I know exactly how you feel, that tick annoys the hell out of me. Time is my greatest enemy because like you said, I may not even have enough time to fail. It seems like someone invented time just to bother my life but if you think about it “Time doesn’t exist, only the clock”.

    • Yes, you’re absolutely right. I often wondered the same thing actually! What would time be with the clock? Calendars? An amazing concept to ponder. We’ll never know, will we?

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