I am learning something about free time.
It is not the missing magic ingredient that will automatically free us to make all our long-held dreams and ambitions come true.
"If only I had time I would…"
What uncharted amounts of 'free' time do is call our bluff.
Perhaps you know how it is… When the kids are young we long for time to ourselves… just a little more time than we have. Then they get a little older and more self-sufficient but life somehow isn't any less busy. And we wish we had time from what we are doing, to get to things that we aren't doing—whether it be that shoebox of photos we want to put in albums, or that book we'd read if only, or maybe that book we'd write if we had half a chance! Or maybe we just want some 'down' time to relax and rejuvenate. We could pray more, play more or develop our artistic bents if only there were time…right?
Well, then the kids all up and move away leaving a void of space and time. Time to pursue our dreams, to do all those things we've waited to have time for. And surprise! It takes more than mere time to get down to them.
For me, one of those things I figured time would free me to do is writing. But it's been comically difficult to devote swaths of time to it now that the time has arrived on my doorstep!
As a writer to writers has said: "…the greased slide to writer's block is a huge batch of time earmarked: 'Now write.' " (*Cameron,13)
This is SO true! Have you read the adorably illustrated children's picture book: "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie"? [You can have it read to you here] Here is an exaggerated depiction of the unforeseen string of consequences that can flow from the simple offering of a cookie. For me, that cookie has been time. And if you give a would-be-writer unlimited time, beware. A host of other activities may eat it right up! Here's what may happen:
First, she will notice it's practically lunch time (where did the whole morning fly anyway?!) and she really shouldn't try writing on an empty stomach… While she's making short work of chronic leftovers she will realize how cold she is. She decides to warm up with her 3 minute weight-lifting routine, aww…why not do some lunges while you're at it? More fun with music… Oh and look here, a whole exercise routine on You-Tube, and it's 'Christian'. Fun!
Well, there, that warmed things up. Oh, wait, this is actually elliptical exercise day. May as well get that out of the way now so the writing will be uninterrupted. Maybe just do a shorter workout than usual. It'll only take 10 minutes. But the music is rousing; why cut it short? A half hour later it's time for a shower--a quick one of course. (Are you kidding? Who takes quick showers? Water is in endless supply in our locale. What we don't use flows out to sea. We live with the rain; long showers are a dividend.)
…OK, there. All ready to settle down and write, right?
Well, then up pops a 'should'…she really should phone the kids and see how they're doing. It'll be quick. Minutes tick by. No worries. They're free. Good phone plan. All caught up with the 'mama'; better talk to each of the grandkids too… Finally, 'Bye,bye'.
Oh, what's this? New email message? These smart phones are so handy. Ah, and a notification. Hmm… ought to re-schedule that get-together for a different day. Monday's a holiday. Hmmm better do that now before I forget.
And so goes the would-be-writer's afternoon. This is evidenced in the fading daylight coming in the study window. But maybe there's still time to tap out a few words at the computer…Hmm…best get a snack first; all that exercise, you know. What's something quick? How 'bout a frozen waffle with Nutella? Gotta toast it…………….then the spreading with luscious gooey chocolaty goodness…Mmm. But it's still rather dry. Better get a glass of milk to go with it.
Now we can get started, at last. Wait. Messy fingers. And while she's in the kitchen rinsing fingers she realizes it's almost time to start dinner and she really should make something special from scratch, since she has all the time in the world…right?
And behold. All that vast expanse of fertile time just waiting to be turned into timeless words has vanished! What happened?
Truth is it's a daunting thing to come face to face with opportunity to do what you've only dreamed of having time for. Dreams tend to preserve ideals that can't stand the light of day. To imagine doing something, to wonder if you might be able… is quite different from pulling it off. Procrastination is just the outward symptom of a greater malady.
So, if you're waiting for an elusive quantity of time to present itself so that you can accomplish great things hitherto only dreamed of, may I make a few suggestions based on my experience?
- Don't wait. Start now with any 15 minute chunk you can scavenge from some dusty corner of your busy day. Then take a tiny imperfect faltering step in the right direction. It sure beats standing still.
- Start small. Set a measurable clear daily objective.
"A small daily task if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules." –Anthony Trollope
This thought inspired me to make a 30 day grid on watercolor paper of the month of November, and into each tiny square to daily plunk a momento in watercolors. In this way I've broken the stalemate of wanting to begin but not knowing quite what or how.
- Don't require a perfect product. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first… You have to start somewhere! My little squares of color, my scribbled pages of journaling, my roughly composed essays…are not finished products in themselves. But neither does the pianist expect to play in the concert hall without hours of daily practice spread over months and years. Once you are willing to do a thing poorly you will find you have time to begin. Or as Julia Cameron says in an essay of advice to writers:
" We have time to write the minute we are willing to write badly." (The Right to Write, Cameron, p.16)
- Do create arbitrary deadlines, occasions for which to accomplish a thing. That's what a weekly blog deadline does for me. As Friday draws near, ideas condense and writing happens because it must. It becomes a priority. Birthdays and holidays make great occasions for which to create that personalized 'something' that will get your creative juices flowing. But don't insist that it be perfect. Give who you are at present. It really is the thought that counts.
- Be patient with yourself. Consider how long it takes an infant to become an athlete… First he must learn to stand and then to take those first faltering steps that most surely will end in a fall. Many falls. Many messes will happen before a beautiful creation is accomplished. Becoming proficient requires practice. Practice looks immature, silly, and yes, messy. Somehow babies manage to always be 'cute' whether toddling unsteadily, plopping unceremoniously, or scribbling indecipherably. But not so the rest of us. We must be prepared to look silly, to produce work below our own standard of acceptability, to be learners.
But above all, don't ignore that creative God-given bent that burns in your bones to be given time to blossom… Ask God to open your eyes to the time that you have now and to hold your hand as you toddle forth… What's in your heart to learn / to do someday? Today is a good day to make a small start.
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. ... And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it. Ps. 90:12, 17 KJV
“Who dares despise the day of small things…” Zec.4:10
P.S. A helpful book on jump starting your creative bent, written from a Biblical perspective, is Janice Elsheimer's: The Creative Call .
For more information click here.
*Cameron, Julia. The Right to Write, Putnam, 1998, p.13