From the title of the post I’m expecting a little bit of eye-rolling here because every writer and artist (and anyone, really) is going to go: “Yes, Emily. I know what time is. I know it’s important. Blah, blah, blahblah, blah.” But that’s the thing. We do spend our time thinking about it, even if it’s not done consciously. Every year we get older. We make subconscious date-oriented marks that we judge things by – that’s why when Christmas comes about it always seems like the year’s gone by so fast.
My point for this post is STOP FOR A SECOND.
One of the grandest lessons I’ve learnt so far as an ‘adult’ is, as the title suggests, the importance of time. I know I’m still young in my career and a lot of people will think of me as assumptive, but that first year out of university, the one where you suddenly realise you have to start being a bit grown up, is a tough one. If you graduate and you get a job in your field straight away that’s truly amazing, and you should pat yourself on the back for it because it certainly doesn’t happen for everyone. For the vast majority of people we’ll just be working for money; stepping stones to finding the something we want to do. What we don’t realise most of the time is that, if you’re like me and can’t say no to people, you end up taking on a part-time job and working twice your contracted hours, taking on more responsibility than your job requires. So all of that extra time you thought you’d have turns into a dream. By the time you get home you’re too tired to do anything other than take an hour for yourself, go to sleep, wake up the next morning, rinse and repeat.
I’m lucky in the sense that my drive, determination and concentration are really some of the only things I’m pretty good at in life, so balancing a job and my own work was challenging, but not entirely impossible once I moved on to something less physically-demanding. I had glorious, hour-long lunch-breaks when, if I didn’t have to share them, I’d wolf-down my lunch in 10 minutes and spend the next 50 writing a few pages for my old book. I’d then go about, do the rest of my shift, get home and then do more work until bed time. I’m not saying take this as an example because it did take its toll on me – driving me to such levels of tiredness that I’d often switch off, lose concentration when I was out in the car, grow irritable and impatient, or it’d show on my face, and my manager didn’t like that; neither did my friends or family.
Now as a freelancer a lot of people look on it as having all the time in the world but actually it’s the complete opposite. Unfortunately I’m still in the reputation-building stage, so I’m pulling more hours in than I’d say is healthy. If you have a ‘money’ job in the meantime you at least have structure and a means to get out of the house; a reason not to work until stupid o’clock. Instead, my daily schedule runs from 8am (when I get up to feed the cat) through the day ’til about 2am (when I force myself to go to bed). And it’s bad, bad, bad. Bad, Emily. Sleeping is important. But in the day when I’m not writing, I’m planning; when I’m not planning, I’m researching; when I’m not researching, I’m marketing; when I’m not marketing, I’m networking; when I’m not networking; I’m updating stuff on my website; when I’m not doing that, I’m writing, and round and round we go.
The other way this swings – especially for artists, writers and creatives – is how time represents itself in our work. I didn’t notice until I quit my job just how half-arsed a lot of my stuff was. Everything could use more description; more depth; more umph. It’s like I only half-listened to what my characters were trying to say and I only saw what I wanted to see. It was shameful, actually. I know I’ll never be as descriptive as some but I never took the time to sit back and really look at my work. I just wanted it to be done and sent off and represented and published. But in this industry it doesn’t work like that even if you do get a book deal. That’s why it’s so important to take that time to stop while the world speeds past you. Whether it’s in a coffee shop, going for a nice walk, taking a bubble bath or meeting a friend out.
If you spend your life looking back you’ll get a crick in your neck. That’s not me saying go off and quit your job (please, seriously don’t) but if you’re in a state where you’re either unhappy or overwhelmed by the prospect of a major change then take a step back. Time will always move forward but you don’t have to be swept away by the current. Never be afraid to ask people or to lean on them for a bit of support now and then. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the things you want to do, or have to do, then write everything out on a piece of paper and number them in their order of importance. Set yourself smaller, more achievable goals, as opposed to trying do everything collectively. You’ll start swimming instead of drowning, and eventually time will become your friend.