Categories of Time

Monday, March 16th, 2020 at 7:45 am

In the years between 2008 and 2014 I published five full-length books (four novels and one work of narrative nonfiction).  That’s five books in six years, all from major publishers, with all the editing and other work that entails. When people ask me how I did it, I honestly can’t figure it out, since I was also a full-time professor during those years.

 When I was teaching, I actually looked forward to going back in the fall, not just because I loved that part of my life, but because I recognized how much I benefited from the  structure it provided.

My biggest problem during breaks was not procrastination or idleness but the opposite. When I am writing a book, I am a house afire. I simply cannot type as fast as the story and the dialogue is rushing through my mind. I cannot wait to see what is going to happen next, and who is going to say what.The characters and their stories become richer the deeper I go into the world of my book.  I begin to understand nuances and meanings I did not see at the outset.

It is such an exhilarating ride that  I will not get up for hours. I start around 6AM and look up and realize it’s 11.  I tell myself to get up, get dressed, eat something, but then I get sucked in again for just one more scene, until by 2PM I am wobbling and lightheaded when I finally stand up.

To keep writing a novel from making a train wreck of the rest of my life during summer and semester breaks, I developed what I called Categories of Time.  Now, as I sit in my condo waiting out the period of self-isolation from this virus I have good reason not to want to name, I am once again looking to my Categories of Time to provide some guidance.  I offer the concept here in the hope that it will be helpful to others wondering how to get through this without bringing out the worst tendencies in themselves.

The idea is to identify the the activities  that help you achieve a balanced, healthy life and stay on track towards your goals.  You then make a commitment to spend one hour a day on each.  Back then, I established these five categories: writing, promoting my success as an author, exercise, life maintenance and recreation.  Life maintenance included everything from taking a shower, to paying bills, to doing laundry, to buying groceries, to preparing a meal.   Recreation meant that I had to spend one hour doing something I might otherwise call a waste of time—playing Scrabble, watching television, surfing the net for nothing in particular.

This last was, to my surprise, the hardest to stick to when I was writing.  Some were easy or necessary to spend far more than  an hour on at least some days, but the whole point, really is to make yourself fit in the whole variety over the course of your waking hours.

My categories are different now, though they still add up to five, which seems a workable number, though yours might differ.  They may evolve, but how I see mine now is as follows, in no particular order:

Creative Time:  I have been thinking about a writing project of a new sort altogether, and will be exploring that.  Keeping it close to the vest for now

Life maintenance:  see above

Reaching Out to Others in Isolation:  phone, text, email, Zoom, FaceTime, etc

Recreation:  see above

Exercise:  daily walk, plus find some hotel exercise and/or stretching routines, since these could be more easily adapted for my condo

The rest of the day, encompassing all hours you are awake,  can be divided daily however you want among these categories, but you must do each one for a minimum of one hour.  How this helped me when I was writing maniacally is that around 2PM, I would say to myself “Yikes!  I have four more categories to fit in today!”   It simply wasn’t appropriate or even possible to work any more, and understanding this, I was able to stop.  It worked then, and I think it will work now.

Well, now I have the Reaching Out category nailed for today with this blog post.  Hope it is of some benefit to you.

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