Scribbler’s Saga #78 – More Time Than You Think

Posted: February 20, 2019 in Uncategorized

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Inevitability and predictability rules the day on Facebook writers’ groups, especially when someone chooses to post a variation of – “help, I have a job/school/life, how do I find time to write?” Yet, another bucket of chum leading to a set of fairly predictable responses from the others in the group.

The choices: A) a recitation of past completed projects with the schedule adopted to make them happen, including getting up early, staying up late etc., B) modestly helpful advice like “write in short bursts stealing time from the slow moments between tasks that service the job/school/life,” C) a pious “if writing is important you make the time,” or from the Advanced Class, D) all of the above. I went with B.

We say these things because nothing pisses off a writer more than someone who’s all up in our writer grills wanting to write, but finds excuses not to. We know having been there spewing the same excuses that we’re lying with a side of hyperbole when we say “the thing wrote itself.” Only in the sense of employing a story structure and characters that makes the process of tapping keys actually fun. The writer still has to put words on the page no matter what and the Universe just won’t care if you don’t.

My version of B went like this – “steal your writing time from the hidden downtime at work because you’re just not productive every moment of a work day.” I asserted that most jobs have a rhythm and that the motivated writer finds those patterns to sneak in a few minutes at a time. I said this in addition to other similar advice from others about using up coffee and lunch breaks. You can, but if you don’t go out with work friends to a nice lunch on regular basis, you might miss out on the other eternal challenge writers face…having things to write about. A balancing act to be sure.

How does this work in practice? First off, let me say nothing here applies if your current job is at a McDonald’s or something. Fast food managers have a marked tendency to seek out malingering employees handing out mop buckets and instructions to change the liners in the trash cans at the slightest whim. An excellent reason when added to the wage scale to treat this kind of employment as either your first or last job. Use your breaks here and don’t screw around with Hell Boss.

But, for most of the rest of us that want to write it does make sense to ask “how much otherwise wasted time at work can be employed by me to get in writing time?” If a lawyer still gets paid by the billable hour waiting by the phone for clients to respond and isn’t expected to help the first years and paralegals do research, how much of that downtime should that lawyer steal putting down words for Alita Anderson, Monster Rights Litigator? Hopefully, that lawyer answers with “as much as I thought prudent at the time.” Certainly said writer will avoid snark from other writers.

Now, I’m not going to pretend I know very much about law offices other than what the TV presents by way of L.A. Law, The Guardian, The Good Wife and the spin-off The Good Fight. Just because I assert that there is quite a bit of downtime between tasks that serve the firm and the billable hours doesn’t mean you don’t have to discover these things for yourself. So let’s talk about the one job I do know something about that has tons of downtime: delivery/Uber/driving.

Speaking with only some hyperbole, I have to the eternal regret of my insurance carriers ended three delivery jobs with the accident that wiped out my car. The latest one about 16 years ago ended with an airbag detonation. The job lasted three years.

During that time, I waited at centrally located gas stations and later on at home as I got slightly arrogant at my job only to be slapped around by the dispatcher on the subject at least once. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Eating a donut. Waiting. And then the company cell phone with a built-in push to talk feature squawked and off I went to deliver stuff, sometimes to people whose names you’d recognize.

You’ll notice I put in about four repetitions of waiting. The writer I am today would absolutely not only bring the notebook that I have carried with me since college, but actually write in it too. As I remember that time, I wrote at least one horrible screenplay and started four others. But, I know I could’ve done more, so I really do get to lean in on some other writer with the “it must not be important to you if you don’t write” head trip.

That time also passed with journalism classes at night that required words on the page, so it wasn’t a total drought. But, I didn’t write as often in the car during downtime preferring to write at home after work as the older me wishes. But, I could have, that’s my point for this article. You’re not always on the clock and when you are you have dead moments where you can steal a paragraph or two. And you always have breaks, if used judiciously to balance the social elements of the day job with getting things done.

I have been on all sides of the chummed water created by this type of post. The been there done that old-timer. And the scared neophyte that didn’t mention a true case of Writers Block knowing the response would be “boo boo, it happens to everyone and maybe if you forced yourself to write even if it’s crap you might find the block ends when you aren’t looking.” And thanks to other things going good with my finances I get to be the “Ducky, I’m just a full time(ish) writer now.” Which means I have even fewer excuses now. We all have more time than we think.

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