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When I Have the Time...
by Moira Allen
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When we're in school, for example, it's easy to convince ourselves that, with all those lectures and papers and research and everything else that goes with "study," we simply don't have time to write. So... we'll do that when we graduate, or obtain whatever degree we're pursuing. Today's workplace takes up more and more of one's time and energy, and when one gets home at last, one simply doesn't have the energy to write, so... we'll do that when our lives get just a little less complicated. Parents have perhaps the greatest time burden of all (for one is rarely just a parent; one is also an employee or self-employed or four or five other things at the same time). So... we'll write when the kids are older, when they're in school, when they've grown up and moved out...
If you're self-employed at some job other than writing, chances are that you are barely able to find time to handle all the tasks associated with one job, let alone two. And so writing takes a back seat to the things that are necessary to keep a roof overhead and food on the table. When things get easier, when the finances improve, when the economy gets better, when I can afford some help, then I'll have time to pursue my dreams...
Sound familiar? Somewhere out there, I suppose, there may be a writer who's saying, "I don't know what she's going on about! I have sooo little to do in life that I thought, heck, I don't have anything better to do, why not spend eight hours a day writing?" If so, I don't really want to meet that person. I'd rather hang out with you real writers. Provided, of course, that we can find the time!
Don't worry, this isn't going to turn into yet another article on "how to find more time to write." Volumes have already been written on that topic; you'll find plenty of helpful articles on time management in our Writing Life section. This isn't even a plug for our Writer's Year planner! (Though, of course, that was.)
Instead, I want to encourage you to take a look at the whole "when I have time" question from a slightly different angle. I've been doing quite a bit of this myself, especially this fall as I realized that I was shuffling ever closer to my fi-(mumble-mumble)-th birthday. It began to occur to me that there's a fundamental problem underlying our continual promises to ourselves to "do it when we have more time." And that problem is this: When we make such promises to ourselves, it's because we actually believe we have all the time in the world.
Whenever we say, "I don't have time to do this now, but I'll do it later, when I have more time," we're assuming that we actually do have "time." Time in the present seems to us a limited, even nonexistent, commodity. But time in the future appears as a never-ending possibility. It will be there when we want it. It will be there when we are able, somehow, magically, to get rid of or past all the time constraints and consumers that we're dealing with today. We will get there, someday. In short, we imagine that we have all the time we need in which to find the time we currently lack.
Now, I don't want to get all existential (or morbid) here and point out the obvious: That none of us knows, really, "how much" time we have, and that any one of us could find, abruptly and without warning, that our time has suddenly run out. I think we all know that, deep down, just as we know that it's a "truth" we prefer not to examine too closely. I'm not talking about that kind of "nobody knows the date or the hour" problem. Rather, I'm talking about the problem that (barring the "abruptly and without warning" bit) faces us all. And that's the problem of getting older.
There comes a moment in our lives, as we acknowledge the arrival (or passage) of the latest birthday, when it suddenly hits us: Oops, I don't have as much time as I thought! I don't have as much time as I fondly imagined I'd have back when I was, say, 25, or 30, or even 40. Or perhaps back when I was 60 or even 70 (because right now I can hear some readers chuckling over the fact that I still look back upon 40 as being not that far behind me).
What hits us is the realization that regardless of how much "time" we have in the present, the amount of time we have available to us in the future is limited. And that means that what we have the potential to accomplish is also more limited than, perhaps, we've been imagining.
Let's assume, for example, that I could write a novel in a year, and better yet, write a novel every year. Let's also assume that I'm going to be able to go on writing novels until I'm, say, 85 (whereupon I'm going to settle down at last and pursue my lifelong dream of raising Gypsy Vanner horses). If I'd begun when I was 30, I could expect to complete 55 novels in my lifetime. (Why not? Agatha Christie managed to write 72 in a bit less than 57 years!) But if I don't start until I'm 50, that number drops to 35 novels. If I wait until 60, the most I can hope to produce is 25 novels. And so on.
Of course, I have the option of writing faster. But no matter how old I am when I eventually do start, there's one thing I don't have, and that's the option of starting sooner. And neither do you. No matter how old you are today, there's one sure thing you can count on: Barring the unforeseen, you're going to get older. The balance in your time bank will get smaller.
In a way, we're talking about two types of time here. One is like money. You never seem to have enough to "make ends meet," so you're constantly putting off expenditures until tomorrow, until you have "more," or at least "enough." The other is like... well, time. Imagine winning the lottery and gaining a million dollars -- but finding that once you have it, you only have a month left in which to spend it all!
There's no single answer to "how to find more time to write." Each of us has to find our own answers to that question. But the key is not so much how we answer the question... as when we start asking it. Because if we wait too long to ask, eventually we risk reaching the point where the answer no longer matters.
Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.