The Relationship Between “Time” and “Why”

I’ve been thinking about time a lot recently. It’s been popping up on web posts I’ve read, and a book I’m reading, and in my own life—after all, none of us ever have enough time.

We all try to cram so much into our day, doing things we think we should be doing, how we should be doing them, and yet most of us never ask the important question: “Why?”

Why are we doing the things we are doing? Why are we choosing to spend our time doing A and not B, even though we would like to do B as much as A or even more?

Sometimes, of course, we do A because it must be done. Things like going to work or taking care of your child. But, see, that is a Why answer—and a valid one. I work so I can have food on the table. I take care of my child because I love her. I spend time with my spouse because I love him.

There are some things that have an obvious Why answer.

But then there are other things that I make myself crazy with (and I’m sure you do, too) that maybe we should ask ourselves Why? Social media is the big thing I’m thinking about here, because it can be a huge time suck. As writers, we are encouraged to be on every social media platform known to mankind, and so we plunge in. I am on so many I can’t even list them all, and I do manage to keep a current presence on all of them. But then an article I read by Kimanzi Constable said most writers who do marketing and social media never ask themselves Why? And that got me thinking.

The easy answer is, “I do social media to build a base so when I do have something to sell I have a base.” But that’s too vague a Why. Why am I on THESE social media platforms? Why do I frequent THIS one instead of THAT one? In other words, do I have a PLAN?

And I don’t. I hop from one to the other and sort of poke around and then hop off. Now, I really am on most social networks just to be…social. To build a network of friends and colleagues to help get through this writing life. But I have often felt of late that I may be focusing on the wrong places or the wrong things in my online presence—or that I might be so scattered across the platforms that I’m almost better off not being on them. So sitting back and thinking Why might be a big help. Who am I trying to be social with? Why on this platform and not another? I might be able to make my social network rounds more efficiently yet more effectively if I had a plan, perhaps built around the platform I am most comfortable with and then branching out to others. Making a social media plan is on my To Do list, for sure.

The other major reason I was thinking about how I spend my time is because writing colleague Tiffany Schmidt asked me if the time I spent blogging was worth it. In other words, with writing time so scarce, could the time I spend on the two blogs I write for be better spent on my fiction writing?

I had never asked myself that question: WHY am I spending a couple hours a week writing blog posts? Without knowing that, I couldn’t answer the question of if that time was well-spent.

I finally decided that, yes, my blogging time is worth it. First, honestly, most of my blogging is done in my “fractured time”—those stolen 5-10-15 minutes between chores and child. Anything less than half an hour is pretty useless (for me) for dealing with my fiction—I can’t switch mental gears fast enough. So this fractured time might otherwise go to no use at all in forwarding my writing if I didn’t squeeze in the blogging there.

Second, not only can I write better, faster than before, I feel myself a part of the larger writing community. The blogs I write for are part of the online conversation of writers, and I like contributing to that. Not to mention how much I have learned—and continue to learn—from reading so many other blogger’s posts. I will admit that the name-recognition I have gotten from blogging (particularly at the Author Chronicles) is a plus. To have complete strangers come up to me at a conference and recognize me from the blog is a bit of a thrill (and a little disconcerting). To know that I am helping people and making an impact in the community is a great feeling. For now, my blogging time is totally worth it. When I get a book deal, I may have to reassess if it still makes sense, but for now it’s where I want to be.

So I think I will take some time in the near future and look at a whole list of things and ask: WHY? The answers may make my life simpler—and they may surprise me. But from now on, instead of running around blindly trying to do everything, I think I will stop to ask Why.

How about you? Do you find yourself racing about like a headless chicken without really knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing?

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Creativity on demand

During our YA class this month, we talked about all the things that are time sucks in our lives – including the Internet (but not this blog, this blog is useful). Most of us are struggling with making the time to write. We have jobs, families, small children, and the million other things life throws in the way when we’re not looking.

Most of us said that we have fragmented writing time – an hour here, a half-hour there, and the like. We discussed strategies for making the most of this time, such as always having a notebook with you to jot down ideas or scenes when you get a free minute.

Then one classmate asked, “When you finally get your half an hour, how do you suddenly throw on the creative switch and dive into writing?” She said she often wastes some of the precious time getting into the proper frame of mind to write. As she said, “It involves a lot of staring at the screen.”

So I started thinking about how I do it. My writing time is incredibly fragmented, yet I am usually able to sit and start writing when I get the chance. I’ve defined three steps to flipping that creative switch on demand.

1. Plan what you are going to write.

When I get up in the morning, I decide ahead of time what I am going to work on when I get my writing moments. Am I going to edit my MG novel? Am I going to write a blog post? Am I going to write new scenes for my YA fantasy? If I know what I am going to work on, that’s one less thing I need to decide when I finally get time to sit down.

2. Rev the creative motor.

Because I know from the moment I get up what I am going to work on, I tend to think about it off and on all day. Any moments where I have free time to think, I think about the project. Laundry? On hold on the phone? Pushing baby girl on the swings? Bathroom break? Waiting for the toast to pop up? Any and all times when my mind does not need to be paying full attention, the project pops to the forefront. I run it through in my brain. If I’m working on a new scene, I will start writing it in my head. My creative motor stays in gear all day long. Then when I sit down, all that energy is ready to pour out, and I can leap into the writing because it’s been in my head for hours. Any writer knows most of your writing is not done on paper, and most writers will admit that they never stop writing in their heads.

3. Just write.

The two steps above help me be ready when my writing time comes. But the most important thing is to just write. It may be bad writing. It may go in the trash bin come revision time. It might be the worst rubbish I ever wrote, even though I had been thinking about it all day. But that’s okay, because none of it is a waste. Every word I write is a victory, and also a lesson. I learn from the bad writing, sometimes even more than from the good.

The answer to my classmate’s question, for me, is that I can turn on that creative switch “on demand” because I never really turn it off. By planning my writing goal for the day and then keeping it in my mind all day before I get to sit down, the creative switch stays On. And that helps me do the single most important thing for any writer:

Just write.

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