In our online conversation two weeks ago, I exhorted The Write Practice community to answer three fundamental questions about their writer's soul, and asked you to tell me what you need help with the most.
The one thing that most of you called out for, overwhelmingly, was time. Well, you're in luck because that is my all-time (pun intended) favorite fascination. So much so that I wrote a book and am running a seminar series on it.
The burning question is, how do we find more time in our ridiculous schedules to write? How can we expand, stretch, push the limits of the time we do have? How do we bleed out those extra seconds, minutes, and hours we're having to spend sitting in traffic/doodling in desperation in mind-numbing company meetings/frozen in line at the grocery store/stuck in the unavoidable time warp of the post office?
Can you feel the primal scream of frustration welling up inside you? Let's back up a sec.
Unlike most "natural" resources, this one unfortunately is not renewable, recyclable, or re-usable. Every single living being on Earth is granted the same volume of time as any other, and typically within the same four-dimensional reality (really, let's not go there).
The point is, once you live through a moment, it's effectively gone. You can retain a memory of it, you can learn from it, but you can't relive it—even if you're Sir Richard Branson. You also cannot grow, synthesize, manufacture, or 3D-print more time. Who knows, I may be eating my words (but hopefully not my time) when they're done with that time crystals research, but for now, we're stuck with a fairly non-renewable stream of the stuff.
Before you sink into your chair a despondent husk of your writing self, read on and rejoice! There are ways to stretch time and snap up more of it for your writing.
Structure and Discipline
This is fairly self-explanatory, so all you really need to do is print out these two words in gigantic Adobe Garamond Pro font and tack them to the top of your screen, wall, front door, forehead, whatever works. But what does it really mean to have structure and discipline in your life? These concepts are easy to print out—not so easy to integrate into your life.
First step: STRUCTURE. Take a good, long, dispassionate look at your life. Your daily routine. Maybe do the geeky thing and write down what a typical day looks and feels like. (Yes, feel. Important.) Once you see it all written or drawn out on paper, you might start to see patterns, structures, habits. Any structure, pattern, or habit that brazenly inhales your time, needs to be re-engineered. Or rendered obsolete altogether.
Your personal context also matters:
• Are you single, in a relationship, or have a family? If the latter, how many kids and of what age are running circles around your sanity? How ready are you to forge some firm boundaries around your time even with the people you love most?
• Does it feel like you're in a good place and just need to tweak a few details, or is your life total chaos with no hope of any control?
Now map out what you would like your day to look like. No doubt your ideal day will vary, to say the least, from your actual reality. But the sweet spot is somewhere in between. So take another, equally dispassionate, look at your current typical day and see where flexibility lies. Do you really need that beauty appointment? You sure you want to spend X amount of time on the phone with person Y every week? What about television, the Internet, online games, Facebook et al, and other blinding, mind-numbing, time-sucking vampires? See where potential for more time lies, and restructure your day around it.
Next step: DISCIPLINE. Once you have your optimized daily structure, STICK 2 IT. If you've decided to hit the sack a little earlier so you can greet the pre-dawn sun (yes that's a trick statement), make sure you show up! No hitting the snooze button. If you've told your family you need a given amount of time on a given day of the week, or a certain time of the day, take that time. This is your sacred time. The more often you slip and give in to family members' demands on your time DURING your sacred time, the more reasons you're giving your beloved ones not to respect it—or you. And that means, in turn, you're not respecting your Muse.
You might also consider time- and energy-saving devices, tools, services, as well as professionals. I'll give you a personal example: we used to wash our floors by hand. Well, the floors looked fantastic but it sure took a bucketful of time. We invested in an all-in-one floor cleaning system from Bissell, and spend a lot less time cleaning our floors. Anything (think cleaning, cooking, communications, etc.) or anyone (think accountants, housekeepers, nannies, admin assistants) who helps you save time without making you sacrifice health and quality of life, is golden.
Just make sure you buy the right products/services and hire the right people. Nothing worse than waxing anxious over your accountant or babysitter when you're supposed to be writing because you're not sure of their professionalism and/or experience. If it takes longer to find the right person, invest the time. It will pay big down the writing road. Remember, it's an INVESTMENT, not an expenditure.
Another option, if it's available to you, is to re-allocate expenses. For example, I much prefer to hire a housekeeper and forgo the new pair of shoes or weekly movie night out or whatever, because time I don't have to spend cleaning the house or cooking turns into precious, valuable time for my writing. When I do cook—and it's a daily ritual—I do it as a break from my writing and to relax my entire being. But that's another blog post, stay tuned.
Finally, the writer's nirvana. Taking a month, two, or an entire year off to write. Can most of us here afford that? Perhaps not. But, assuming our goal is to be full-time writers, we can work toward it, by being smart financial planners or hiring them. Again, this requires a separate blog post but there it is, a small appetizer.
Linear vs. Non Linear Time
Now that we've gotten all that icky discipline stuff out of the way, let's bite into the core. The Maya and other indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica had—and those who practice the old ways still have—a different concept of time than we in industrial societies do. We live according to linear, what the Maya would call "ordinary" time: we go through life stages one after the other; our weeks, months, and years follow each other like pearls on an unclasped necklace. We celebrate birthdays largely as markers or milestones in a linear lifespan without any reference to previous or future birthdays or life stages, or any respect paid to our whole and complete being. Our economic, financial, business and other structures also operate on this temporal system: our ideals, especially in quarterly reports, are straight diagonal lines that look "up". It's also a practical system: linear time gives us coordinates ("Meet me Monday at Starbucks at 9am") and helps us manage our busy calendar.
Non-linear time, what the Maya call "sacred time," is the time Nature runs on. Cyclical and multilateral in nature, this is the "stretchy" time that physicists are so intrigued by. This is the time that other human endeavors, like art, music, architecture, spirituality, philosophy, religion, science, and yes, writing, also innately employ. This is time found in those mundane cracks and crevices of your life that can expand into massive, profound experiences, insights, or ideas. This is time that delivers truckloads of inspiration in the space of a nanosecond—volumes of creativity so huge that it can take months of linear time to write it all down.
I've experienced it. It's humbling.
I'm quickly running out of space so I'll give you a link if you're interested in diving in deeper into this concept of sacred time, according to the Mayan Calendar. The first is a free podcast we recorded of the Introduction to my seminar series "Living in Sacred Time." The seminar wasn't designed for writers only, but the Introduction will give you a good idea of how sacred time works and how to blend it into your daily life. I also wrote a book about the sacred time of the Maya and how it's relevant to our lives today.
Find Your Sacred Time
So how do you find this "sacred" time? Do you need to sell everything and move to Guatemala? Heavens no. Sacred time is literally EVERYWHERE. It's in things like the flowering buds on the trees in spring, a snowflake on your windshield in winter. It's in the smile of a stranger you pass on the street, the story a child tells you about something completely insignificant that happened during her day. Can you recall a similar moment in recent memory? If you can't, you're probably not paying attention to life itself.
And that is absolutely essential for a writer.
Try this. Instead of obliterating that snowflake on your windshield with a flash of your obedient wipers, look at it. Yes, actually look at it. Gaze, stare, tip your head a few degrees. Give it a few moments. That snowflake may inspire awe at nature’s incredible precision, ignite your innate love of art and symmetry, remind you of a loving memory from your childhood, or just make you feel very differently about how cold it is outside. It might give you a different mood for a scene you happen to be writing.
This is sacred time. It costs $0.00, and gives you back gazillions in ROIT (Return On Investment in Time).
Instead of reading that email that just announced itself in your inbox, give yourself the luxury of gazing out the window, or even just spacing out for five minutes—but be sure to space out in deep thought if you really want to be productive.
If you’re stuck in traffic, turn the usual frustration and intolerance of other people's mind-boggling driving habits into sacred time. In other words, realize how extraordinary it is to have this unexpected gift of time to think, reflect, feel, or work through whatever aspect of your WIP is currently driving you (no pun intended that time) mad.
Ditto for that snail-crawl grocery line, that time warp in the post office, that insomnia-cure of a company meeting. My personal motto is, "if you can't avoid it, embrace it!"
Because in that embrace of the agony of linear time, lies the ecstasy of sacred time.
It's up to you.
What's keeping you from having your sacred time?
Note: The original version of this post was first published on The Write Practice on October 9, 2013.