Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Time is Not On Our Side

25,000 words and counting. I'm starting to flush out my plot, and for the most part, I like where it's going.

About six weeks ago, when I started this adventure, I emailed the author of one of the writing books I'd read. This author is a big fan of fresh metaphors, and I sent him one of my favorites, from Ian McEwan's Amsterdam. The author responded right away, thanked me, and said that my trope sailed right into his list of select metaphors. He then sent me a few more of his favorites. He even included his phone number and address. I was elated: a real best-selling author, connecting with me in this way! When I responded back to him, I dropped the punch line: "I just quit my job at a biotech firm; I'm going to attempt to write a novel. I'm giving myself a year." Then, lest he think I'm all about the big P, I added: "I'm trying to focus more on the learning experience than on the end game of getting the book published."
When the author responded, he copied part of my own email back to me: "I'm trying to focus more on the learning experience than on the end game of getting the book published." Below it, he added, "wise strategy -- and good luck at it."
Now, the author may have just been giving me genuine encouragement, complimenting me on my strategy, and trying not to set me up for inevitable future disappointment. But, even through email, I sensed there was something more. I'd overplayed my hand somehow. This man has written and taught writing his whole life, and he's seen this more times than he can count. I had crossed some invisible line with him; I'd joined that camp of people whom real authors probably detest most: those who think, if only I had the time, I, too, could write the next Catcher in the Rye.
Now, many weeks later, I understand a little better. Before I started my year "off," I envisioned all these things I would do in addition to writing a novel. After all, I'd have plenty of time to whip out my masterpiece. I was also going to mountain-bike; write songs; travel; finally become fluent in Spanish; paint my coffee table; organize my sock drawer; file my guitar tabalature alphabetically in a user-friendly binder.
I haven't done any of these things.

My friends have joined in on this illusion of unlimited time. Whenever we're planning a group event, I hear, "Brian, since you have the time, can you... call the venue... buy the food... pick everyone up, etc. The other day, a friend called me so I could give him directions to the nearest Target. He was on the road and knew I'd be home, in front of a computer, with absolutely nothing to do.
Friends, I assure you: If you quit your job, your laundry will still be not-quite-done, your drawers still waiting to be cleaned out. You won't go to the gym more than you did before; you aren't going to take salsa lessons or learn to sail.

I've come to realize it's not about time, it's about priorities. Quitting my job and giving myself a defined period in which to write a novel has forced me to make writing my priority.


  1. You've totally hit a nerve with me here. I used to write part-time and when I came to this full time realization about writing I just couldn't go there.

    But I did realize that I have an entrepreneurial spirit and that I have the same vision to realization type quest that an author must have if he is to take his craft seriously.

    I used to get this SAME issue - as though I were unemployed and doing less than someone with a "real job." In actuality I used to be the janitor, the accountant, the marketer, the CEO, you name it.

    Things have changed but mostly because my own mindset and boundaries have changed. I am passionate about what I do and how I want to do it.

    For me at least I realized my limitations in terms of time and focus. I made my vision my number one priority and all other things in my life get sorted through that lens - at least for now.

    I think you have to pick one thing and do it very well. I think it is also do-able to have friends, relationships and business dealings that support this vision. In those instances where your vision and those relationship come into conflict are opportunities for a frank conversation with yourself and those involved.

    After several conversations if it seems like you're left in a situation where you have to choose between one or the other, I know that personally, I have made the decision to make that choice decisively and torture myself with regret.

  2. Correction: And NOT toture myself with regret.

    Once you've made a choice and that arrow has left your quiver you have to let it fly. If it missed the mark then make the resolution to aim better next time.

    Good luck Brian! I'm in your corner.