Five Categories of Time

Last June, when I filed my grades, I had the astonishing prospect of eight DSCN5589months of unstructured time ahead. First, there would be the usual three months of summer, followed by a sabbatical semester, and then the winter break, so I wouldn’t be going back to my routine until the end of January.

Though I was thrilled by the opportunity to take the semester off, and I was excited by my sabbatical project, I admit I had a few misgivings. I think most people benefit from structure in their lives, and I had just lost mine. I knew I would need to create a routine that would enable me to remain productive, healthy, and satisfied.

I blogged about this back in July, in a post called “‘Healthy Author’ is Not an Oxymoron.” Here’s what I said:

“This summer I am telling myself that writing is only one of several good uses of my time, and it is inappropriate to be writing when I should be doing something else. I have a sign near my computer that has a list of 5 things:

  • Writing
  • Book Promotion
  • Exercise
  • Life Maintenance
  • R&R

Every one of those things is a valid and necessary part of my day.  I plan every day around ensuring that I put in at least an hour on each. Then I fill up the rest of my time with a mix of all of them, in whatever way works that day.

I’m not talking about the 8-hour standard workday, but the whole 12 hours from the time I get up (around 6AM) to the time I call a halt to everything but an evening with my sweetheart (around 6PM). On most days the majority of my time overall is taken up with writing, but as I get more invested in the other things on the list,  I often spend more than the minimum on them, and I still have a lot of time to write.

I ask myself a couple of times each day whether I’m doing a good mix of the 5 types of things, and if I’m not, I tell myself “it’s not writing time now.”

Haven’t exercised?  Do it!  Haven’t taken a shower or gone to the store? Do it. Haven’t stopped just to do something fun? Do it!

I’m having a great summer, and interestingly, I don’t think my writing productivity has dropped overall.  I’m still on track to finish novel #4 this fall, and I think I could have finished it only a few weeks earlier at most if I had done nothing else. And I feel great–not at all like that stringy-haired, unwashed, antisocial creature with a backache I vaguely remember from summers past.

So here’s the report from the still washed and sociable creature who wrote those words four months ago: IT’S WORKING! I have gotten more exercise than I have in years. I have missed only two days since I started this plan, and both times I made it up the following day. I can run an hour with ease, do more crunches and lift more weight than I thought possible at my age. I’m feeling great, and best yet, despite all the time I am parked at my computer, I am still not straining to button my jeans.

I have blogged daily at Xanthe’s World since mid-August (part of book promotion) and done a pretty substantial number of real and virtual appearances since the release of PENELOPE’S DAUGHTER in October. I finished novel number four, THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD, and am well into the re-re-revision. I taught a mini-course at SDSU (that’s me in the photo) and gave several lectures other places. I’m getting out to lunch from time to time with friends, something I never seem to find time to do the rest of the time.

Oh, and that sabbatical project? The product of my sabbatical is four lectures (with accompanying slide show). I just finished the fourth slide show last week, two months ahead of schedule. For the remaining two months, I will go back through the books and other material I have amassed to see if I’ve missed anything I want to include, but basically, I’m done.

There’s a lot of time in a day. It seems the more I diversify what I do, the more time there is. I know many people have many more demands on their time than I do, but I still think that making a promise to oneself to put some time every day into ALL the things that are important instead of being swamped by one or two will cause a surprising increase in productivity and energy. When I go back to school, I’ll have a sixth category of time, and a slightly different promise to make to myself, but I’m doing it. I am really on to something and I’m sticking with it.
My great class at SDSU's Osher Institute

My great class at SDSU's Osher Institute
My great class at SDSU's Osher Institute

A Slight Change in Tense

I gave a talk at the La Jolla Writer’s Conference this weekend on one of my favorite subjects, “Writing Scared.” In it I talk about how scary writing is even to those of us who do it all the time and are successful at it, at least to the extent that publication is an indicator. DSC_3777
At some point in the talk, I made a point I often made to my community college classes when I still taught research writing. We generally think in terms of things we want to do, but I think sometimes it works better to cast goals as things we want to have done.

“I want to get a college degree,” someone says, when the more accurate statement might be “I want to have gotten a college degree.” Likewise for many things. How many people want to work out, for example? Don’t most want to move on with their day having finished a workout? Don’t we want a clean house more than we want to clean it? To have a weeded garden more than to weed it? My students wanted to have written their first ten-page research paper far more than they actually wanted to write it. I heard thousands of testimonials to that effect over the years!

This seems like a simple enough point, except I suspect that the people who finish things may be those who have the best ability to remember how good satisfaction feels. Let’s face it–when we are working toward a substantial goal we spend the vast majority of our time in what I once named the “middle muddle,” where the tasks seem endless and the finished product far too distant to offer much light. Keeping going is really an act of faith mixed with a huge amount of imagination.

Can you remember how good it feels to stand up, covered with dirt, or sweat (or their equivalents when the task has been one of the mind) and look at what you have accomplished? Doesn’t the down-and-dirty of it just not matter anymore? Life is so good in those moments. and we can have them only if we’ve done the rest without faintheartedness. “I want to have written a diary entry,” I told myself this morning, and now I have!