Spending Time

Time is not my friend. It goes by too quickly. It goes by too slowly. It slips by me unawares whenever I focus too intently. This is most especially problematic when I’m supposed to be winding down for bed, as I am as I’m writing this. I was going to go to bed around 10 PM. I just looked at the clock and it’s 11:06. I’m not entirely sure where that hour and a half went, but I can’t get it back even if I did. So, I let it go.

A few months ago I got caught in a bad spell. Everything was a struggle. My spirits were low. I was frustrated, burnt out, exhausted, and making no headway. It was like swimming for all I was worth, only to be pulled back further and further by the outgoing tide.

Looking back, I can’t remember what intuitive sense it made at the time. All I know is that I was trying to write and I couldn’t. It was like my tank was empty. This was a rather shocking experience for me, because I always have ideas. I’ve had more ideas for books that I could ever possibly write. It’s gotten to the point that, unless an idea sticks around for at least a week, I don’t even bother to write it down, because it must not have been strong enough to last. I can do that, because I’m never short on ideas. But now, rather suddenly, my mind was all but blank.

There was just that one idea that kept pestering me. It wouldn’t leave me alone! So, I humored it. I started writing. That kept up, so I made a point of it—buying better notebooks to hold and manage the story as it unfolded. At first, I thought that, maybe, if I kept toying with it over the next year or so, eventually a complete story would materialize.

Now, just a few months later, I’m happy to tell you that the first draft of The Coveted One is complete. I have four notebooks full of story. Granted, this is a far cry from a publishable novel, but still…pretty impressive for a novel I wasn’t planning on writing at all. And I pantsed my way through the whole dang thing! Yes, me, the planner, pantsed my way through a complete novel!

The four notebooks were my tethers to the planning part of myself. They were constraints: fit the first part in the first notebook, fit the next part in the next notebook, etc. In the back of my mind, I assured myself that if I couldn’t hit my marks, then I’d just give up this whole thing. But I did hit my marks…each and every one.

This novel would never have come about if I tried to plan it in advance, because the planning part of my brain would never have allowed me to tell a story this way. Basically, the narrative is one person telling the story to another person, as it’s told by the second person who is telling it to a group of people. So, in the course of the subsequent books, there are several marks I must also hit so, eventually, it’s all brought up to the present where this second person is telling the story to make a point to these other people…right before something epic happens. (Yes, I know what, but I’m not going to tell you, geesh!)

Anyway, as I let this story sit before I try to take another crack at it (writing something else in the meantime), the biggest problem I’m facing is that I wrote the first draft with absolutely no thought with regards to scenes. It’s not just that I didn’t think about the mechanics of scenes; I didn’t think about scenes. Period. I’m not 100% sure at this point, but I suspect there are a few chapters in which there are no scenes at all. There are definitely chapters where it’s 90% information dump and 10% scene.

Another problem is that, as of now, only the most important characters have names and they don’t actually get those names until they become important. So, there are two characters that don’t get names (or identities or much of anything) until the climax of the book. Which is a problem I wouldn’t be facing if I’d actually planned the book.

Ah yes, this post is about time. The antithesis to time, at least in this context, is passion. Passion has a tendency to drink up time as if there’s no tomorrow. From the perspective of passion, there is no tomorrow. There’s just now. We act now. We want it now. We need it now! And I’m passionate about a lot of things: the marketing ideal, neurodiversity, fantasy fiction, this story, my children, my family, God, and the list goes on.

I’ve tried to exercise self-control. I try to do things in order. I plan…because if I don’t, I’ll just go wherever my passion takes me, which doesn’t always get me anywhere. The way we spend our time is a choice. If we don’t feed our passions, they’ll starve. But if we only feed our passions, then we’ll starve. There has to be balance, but that balance doesn’t always have to be equitably dispersed.

In a totally different context, I’m reading about how equity isn’t equality, which is something I already know. In this sense, an equitable dispersal of funds will distribute sufficient funds to all projects, whether a project works or not. Governments do this all the time. The point being made is that feeding successful projects achieves more than an equitable dispersal of funds, because it encourages projects to do the hard work to become successful.

For a long time now, I’ve been feeding my business, because my business fed my family. Now, I’ve reached the point where I will soon have to raise my rates because there are more people who want my professional time than I can serve, and raising my rates is one way to weed out those who really need the level of quality I produce and those who are willing to settle for less. So, while I still need to work, I don’t need to feed my business nearly as much. This means I can divert that energy to other things. And the timing is perfect, because I have plenty of other things that are eager for that energy.

Every time you choose to spend your time, you’re making an investment. You can invest in your future, or in your past. You can invest in your success, or in your failure. You can invest in your hopes, or in your fears. You can invest in your dreams, or in your nightmares. I’m not exactly an optimist. I can doomsay and worrywart with the best of them. But if those are my choices, and I’ve learned that those really are my choices, then I choose to invest in my future, in my success, in my hopes, and in my dreams. When it comes right down to it, I control very little. I can’t even control my health and it’s my own dang body! But I can control what I choose of the choices that are available to me. And so can you.

Now, I rarely say this sort of thing, because 1) it’s usually not true, 2) it always sounds arrogant to me, and 3) every time I’ve heard anything similar it’s always been more about the person’s pride than their well-wishes for others. Nonetheless, I’m going to say it and I’m just going to have to hope you take it in the honest, humble, helpful spirit in which it is meant. So, here it goes…

If I can write the first draft of a novel in three months while I was sick with an illness that isn’t completely cured after three rounds of antibiotics, and while I was trying to run a business, and while I was trying to keep up with two graduate courses, and while I raised three children with autism, and while I was helping my mother recover from hip replacement surgery, and while I was running up to the big city on a weekly basis (except for the holidays) to get my son outfitted with a communication device, and while I celebrated the holidays with my family, including my brother who came to visit briefly, then…

If I could do all this, then what’s your excuse?

I didn’t have my health. My business had just taken a nosedive due to neglect. I was behind in my school work and struggling to keep up after sleeping away two weeks of my life due to a terrible medicinal side effect. I was a caretaker not only for my children, but for my mother. I had unordinary demands on my time and my energy. And yet I wrote and I finished and it was worth it.

So, really, what’s your excuse? What reason are you giving yourself not to write and not to finish what you’re writing? What is holding you back and why are you letting it!?! What would you really rather spend your time on?

This isn’t about my pride. I don’t want or need pats on the back for my job(s) well done. I’m not puffing myself up, nor am I talking down to you. And, for once, I’ve had everything I usually rely on—my own wellbeing, my support system, my motivation, my tenacity—stripped away until I was left bare, with only an annoying dream that wouldn’t just give up and die to carry me through.

So, my point isn’t Oh, wow, look at how much I can accomplish, yay me! That’s not my point at all. My point is that this one annoying passion, by me choosing to feed it instead of starve it, carried me through all the hardships and all the shit to a point that I could say, Oh, wow, that actually worked!

I don’t judge you for your excuses, because I’ve had plenty of my own for a very long time. And I don’t really regret any of them because, for better or worse, they got me to where I am today, which is STILL STANDING after a low point that goes down in my personal history book. (Yes, technically, I’m sitting, because standing and typing has never really worked for me, but the point is better made with “standing” and I could stand up if you really wanted me to, so deal with it.)

This isn’t about judgment. This is about revelation, or we can go with epiphany if the word “revelation” is too uncomfortable for you. By letting go and by doing what came naturally to me, I had more energy and more hope when dealing with everything else. I’m not challenging you to tell me your excuses so I can knock them to bits; I’m challenging you to question your excuses so you can choose whether they’re bona fide reasons or mere distractions. And I’m reminding you that, just because life’s hard and just because it sucks, that doesn’t mean you have to let it stop you from doing what is in you to do.

The choice is yours. It always was. It always will be. Just don’t make it by default.

About the Author

Stephanie Allen Crist

Stephanie Allen Crist is a writer, advocate, and marketer. Stephanie’s first two books, Discovering Autism / Discovering Neurodiversity: A Memoir and First Steps: Understanding Autism, are available now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *