Time is Time… Or is It?

time is time‘I need more time.’

‘I don’t have time.’

‘If only I could find more time.’

Does this sound familiar?

When speaking to fellow creative types, the thing I hear the most is the lament for the lack of time to devote to our much-loved art form, be it writing novels, painting landscapes, composing songs or quilting. Artists of all varieties need access to resources—technology, paints, textiles and education, for example—and included in that list is possibly the most coveted of all, time.

Until recently, I thought of time as a finite resource, and struggled with a year planner to work out how quickly I could write my next book, and the next one after that, and so on. With my fourth novel in progress right now, and further contract discussions at hand, I am forced to squash my creativity (by definition, nebulous) hard up against deadlines. But how can I possibly know how long it will take me to write a novel before I’ve even started?

The tricky thing for me to estimate, which I am sure is true for many other creatives, is ‘brew’ time. That is, the time I set aside for my creative project to marinate, so that when I later go back to it, I am looking at it with fresh eyes and lively new ideas. That ‘resting time’ for a creative project helps it mature to greater depth and richness. But is there a way to shorten the brew time, still get a pleasing outcome, and potentially increase my productive output?

Yes, I now think so.

In my struggle to understand how to do this, I spoke with author of twenty-seven novels, Dr Kim Wilkins (who also writes under the name Kimberley Freeman), and who coincidentally happened to be writing an academic paper on just this topic, and asked her about finding the balance between allowing a project time to brew and pushing forward towards a deadline.

‘I’m still learning, but I think I know instinctively if I’m procrastinating. There are also things I do to make the brew happen, like going for a walk, or sitting with my notebook and gazing out the window. I find if I keep connected to the project, and make time for it (including time to research, read, and think) it usually comes. I never force it. The writing is awful when you force it.

‘The incubation period is an acknowledged part of creative activity across all fields. It’s like an exercise rest day: it feels like you’re getting nowhere but you actually are. It can’t always be forward motion.

Kim’s idea that she can ‘make the brew happen’ piques my interest. I now realise that I have been thinking of my brew time as a completely passive activity, when maybe I could speed up my process by specifically allocating smaller portions of time to focused and active ‘thinking’ rather than having long lengths of amorphous subconscious brewing where I wait for the messages to swim up from the deep.

Possibly to my own detriment, having long breaks may even slow me down in more ways than I think. In Kim’s forthcoming academic paper, Writing Time: Coleridge, Creativity and Commerce, she says that ‘As in physics, the initial energy required to start motion (in this case, writing) is greater than that required once momentum is achieved. Interruptions force inertia, and that initial energy must be found again and again.’

The lesson I am receiving, then, is that smaller parcels of active time done more frequently will get me further than longer periods of action after lengthy stretches of rest. Possibly too, if I constantly see my manuscript with fresh eyes after extended absences I will simply reinvent the piece (creating more work for myself), rather than digging deep enough into what I already have to bring it to fruition as it is.

Kim also reminds us that time isn’t just time. Yes, there are sixty seconds in a minute but we don’t necessarily perceive it that way. I’m sure we’ve all had that experience of a minute feeling like an hour and vice versa. Perhaps if I engage my thinking time more actively I might even trick myself and my creative flow into believing I have more time than I actually do.

Most of us will have also at some point found our ‘bliss point’ in an activity where we reach a sense of timelessness, or time standing still, or time meaning nothing. At varying points in our life, time shape shifts and bends. I am often reminded of that saying that goes around in the circles of new mothers—the days are long but the years are short.

Maybe the answer to my struggles lie in applying this same level of intense attentiveness to my novel as I did to my new born, where the whole world fell away to just leave he and I together, working it through, getting to know every different type of cry and facial expression, the sound of every breath and feel of skin. Every day was a marathon that lasted a week. And yet he has just turned five and it’s all happened in the blink of an eye.

Time is merely a notion. I now believe that it might just be possible to increase my productive output while simultaneously slowing down my experience to something that serves both my novel and myself just perfectly, perhaps simply by being more present with the time that I have.

A Writer’s Year Plan

It’s been a great year for me and it hasn’t been by accident. At the end of last year, I wrote down my reflections of the year, I pinpointed the things that went wrong and wrote strategies for how to avoid them or deal with them if it happened again. I wrote down all the great things that did happen and all the things I wanted to change. And I mapped it all out, both personally and professionally and then I executed it, month by month. And I did it all in Leonie Dawson’s Create Your Shining Year workbook.550x381_AffiliateGraphics_2016

You know how they always say that when you write something down it’s more likely to come true?

That is the value in year planning.

In my last post, I introduced you to the year planner that changed my life in 2015. In this post, I want to tell you about some of the things I wrote down in my year planner that came true, even when I thought they were just fanciful, fun dreams.

The funny thing about writing these things down was that, for the most part, I completely forgot about them. And then months later, when checking in, I stopped and went, wait a minute! I just did that! Better than that, often what I wrote down came true, yes, but in a way that was even BIGGER and BETTER than what I’d written.

Here’s some:

  1. Get new author pics. I was lining up a friend or my sister to do this for me and then about two weeks after I wrote this, my publisher emailed out of then blue me asking if Allen & Unwin could organise this for me, with a professional photographer and a makeup and hair person. Whoa! Yes please! Thank you, A&U, you are generous and wonderful and make me look much better than I feel.
  2. Do yoga. I wrote this down, thinking I’d like to do a class. But you know what? We did better. My husband and I decided we needed a private yoga teacher and it was possibly one of the best things we’ve ever done for ourselves.
  3. Fly to Sydney to see my publisher and agent (for no other reason than to see them). I did this and it was great not only to catch up when things weren’t so hectic but because EXTRA things came directly out of the fact that I did that: (1) totally unexpectedly, I was invited to submit a manuscript for a children’s book that I’d been scribbling away on; (2) I got a new title for my next book, The Beekeeper’s Secret (thanks, Tom); and (3) I booked a flight to the UK! (see next point)
  4. Fly to the UK. I did it! That one was totally a ‘wish list’/ ‘in your dreams’ thing and yet… it came true!
  5. Pay off the mortgage. Okay, this one was also an ‘in your dreams’ thing. But the thing with this one is that I didn’t specify which house to pay off. In my head, I was thinking our family home. But what has happened is that our beautiful tenant has left our other property (our family home before this one), so we put it on the market and we’ve just got a contract for it and that will pay it off. So it’s all good.

I also invested in my business systems.

  • I changed my focus from social media and began a quarterly newsletter, and when I mentioned it to my publishers, they offered to help out with some prizes for some issues. (Did I mention how great they are?)
  • I made a book trailer for The Chocolate Promise / The Chocolate Apothecary.
  • I got a personal assistant. This was also an ‘in your dreams’ thing (almost laughable). But guess what? I did it! Only for a couple of hours a week, sure. But it is a great move and I’m so pleased I’ve done it.
  • I invested a lot more time into my financial bookkeeping systems, spreadsheets of what contracts are where and when reporting periods happen, actually went and found all my contracts (I know, I know). In other words, I really took the legal/financial stuff a lot more seriously and set up processes to help manage the growing correspondence about this. (Truly, I’ve no idea how authors who have ten or twenty books all published in different regions and with translation rights keep on top of it all. But since I do hope that will be me one day, I guess it’s best I try to figure it out now.)

The other great thing that happens when you start writing down not only what you want to happen, but also what does happen, and what unplanned successes came along, is that you get into the FLOW of synchronicity and more and more good things come your way.

Great surprises and beautiful blessings for the year of 2015

  • A New York agent took on The Chocolate Promise and is hopeful of selling it.
  • I have contracts for The Chocolate Promise to be translated for the German market!
  • Kim Wilkins (Kimberley Freeman) gave the most beautiful speech about me and my book at the launch of The Chocolate Promise this year and it will stay in my heart forever.
  • I received an ABIA nomination for The Tea Chest and my publishers flew me to Sydney to attend the awards.
  • I got to take my sister, nephew and Dad with me to the UK, for fantastic family support on my research trip there. Lots of gorgeous memories were made and I even got to tick off another of my year’s ‘fanciful’ things to do… play Canasta!!! (We are Canasta tragics in our house and spent many hours laughing ourselves silly over the cards in the Cotswolds).
  • I have learned so much about myself as a writer, woman, mother, creative and human being this year (and I’ll get to another post about that soon).

Leonie Dawson’s 2016 Shining Year Workbooks  are on sale now but stocks are already running low. I cannot recommend them enough. You can choose just the personal life book, or the business book, or both, and you can get them in digital and print copies. They are a small investment in what could be a huge return on your dreams.

Leonie’s books get right to the heart of what it means to live, of what it means to have a business (the big ‘why’ of why we do what we do), of what it means to be alive and have dreams, and then grounds that in real visionary activities. I can’t wait for mine to arrive and to dive into planning the next beautiful year of my life.