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.

Writing Retreats — Which Type is Right for You?

Writing retreats are, hands down, awesome–so much so, I’d go as far to say they are one of the most important things you can do as a writer.

Just you, the trees, and your book
Just you, the trees, and your book

I’ve been on a number of writing retreats. In fact, the first one I went on, I organised myself by choosing a location, setting a timetable and a structured outcome process (I’m a former teacher; I can’t help it), and inviting people along. Despite an accommodation challenge, it was fantastic. Since then, I’ve come to value retreats in many varied and extended ways and I’ll be writing several posts on this topic this year. So let’s start with finding the right type of retreat for you.

( If you want to join me on retreat, I’ll be offering a tutor-led retreat on the Sunshine Coast hinterland in 2015)

The DIY retreat

This is what I did for my first retreat. It’s a bit like a school camp except that everyone there is a nerd, just like you. So you can actually revel in your artsy, geeky glory instead of feeling left out. (Or, hey, maybe that’s just me.) The DIY retreat goes something like this:

  • a bunch of writers agree to go and spend time together in a location suitable for their needs and desired outcomes
  • you might share accommodation, food, books, notes, and resources
  • you might choose to delegate everyone a job, such as presentation to the group on some aspect of the craft of writing
  • you might all like to submit a portion of writing for the group to review prior to the retreat and at the allocated time in your schedule, you have a group critique session. (Most people really dig this part so it’s worthwhile doing.)
  • you might even approach an author to come and visit you on retreat (or stay with you), pay for their time to teach you some skills and/or give you feedback on your writing.

Who is this for? Writers on a budget; aspiring writers who want to get their feet wet on retreats; those who want to hang out with other writers; writers who want to tailor their own retreat (e.g. handpick an author to come to their retreat).

IMG_3586The Solo Word Count retreat

This is the retreat you take yourself on to GET THINGS DONE. There is only one goal on this retreat: WORDS. Fantastic if you are on a deadline (either self-imposed or contractually obligated), or perhaps when you’re just bursting with a story and dying to get it down but life keeps getting in the way.

The last retreat I took was of this type and I nailed 10,000 words in two-and-a-half days. For me, that’s fabulous. And if I did three retreats a year like that, that would be a third of a first draft of a novel done in just over a week in total. Bam! Words, words, words. A novel can’t exist without words, after all.

Who is this for? Anyone feeling a timeline pressure. (Or extreme introverts who relish days on end in silence with nothing but their own thoughts.)

The Solo Planning and/or Editing retreat

This is similar to the Solo Word Count retreat, except that your goals are different. Rather than a tunnel-vision goal of moving forwards only (word count), the planning and editing phases of writing are a lot more lateral. Spiralling, even. Narrowing in, then pulling outwards again. Reading, then editing. Writing notes, then typing words. Drawing diagrams, and then throwing them away. It takes time and space to do these things well and a retreat is a great way to really get to know your novel.

Who is this for? Writers at the beginning of their project; writers working on subsequent drafts; writers on a deadline to move through the editing phase.

The Lifestyle writing retreat

This could be organised by you, a group of you, or an external party.

I’d say the focus of this type of retreat is sharing communal space with other writers to enjoy spontaneous connection and indulgence of your love and passion for writing. There’ll be plenty of time to write on your own in a nook somewhere, or sitting at the big ol’ dining table with other writers. There might be shared dinners out, time for a massage, or doing some yoga between sessions.

Who is this for? Anyone who’s feeling a bit stuck, disconnected or who has lost the passion and motivation for their project. It’s a big kick start to your creative juices.

The Research retreat

Oh, this is fun. New locations, road trips, plane trips, boat trips, train trips… you get the point. Photography. Note taking. Maps. Historical societies. Interviews with relevant subjects. On-site visits to businesses, farms or families. Collecting knick knacks, feathers, stones or food.

The goal of this retreat is to get as much hard data and/or whimsical feeling for many of elements of your project to take back home with you so you can continue to write your story with new vision.

Who is this for? Writers who are building scenes and stories about places, time, people, careers, history etc. outside of their own world view of the world. Writers who want to kick start a project. Writers who have stalled in a project and need to infuse it with new life.

The ‘it’s all done for you’ retreat

These are retreats offered by writers, editors, associations and so on. They generally pick the location, provide tutors/instructors/mentoring sessions etc. You pay a fee that covers the accommodation and the retreat program. Some will include food in the price, others leave that out. There’ll generally be workshop sessions as well as individual and/or group feedback on a selection of your writing.

Who is this for?  Anyone who’d like to spend time with the already established authors and mentors who are running the retreat. Anyone who is time poor and would rather not deal with the logistics of organising a retreat. Anyone who wants to feel safety in numbers.

*** Do any of these types of retreats sound appealing to you? ***

If you want to join me on retreat, I’ll be offering a tutor-led retreat on the Sunshine Coast hinterland in 2015, so email me at josephinemoon [at] live.com.au to let me know you’re interested.

I’m also open to visiting you on your own self-organised retreat. You can email me to chat about that too 🙂