Take Your Time

As an author, one of the best gifts you can give yourself is time.

Your writing deserves plenty of time. You need to have enough time to come up with ideas, try them out in writing, reread them, revise them, and also step away and give yourself some distance so you can revisit your writing with a fresh vision.

Sometimes time will seem to fly by. The writing flows; the ideas seem to stream effortlessly from your head to your fingers to the keyboard. You won’t even notice the minutes ticking by, the sun sinking low in the sky. You’re diving deep and finding satisfaction as your ideas take shape in front of you. You’re embracing your role as someone with a story to tell, an argument to build, a message to deliver.

At other times you’ll feel as if time is weighing down on you. Your creative process will seem stagnant and stale. You’ll feel stuck, staring at a blank screen with frozen fingers. When you notice time passing, it will only serve as a reminder that you haven’t gotten anywhere with your project, that you feel as if your ability to write has dissolved into the pool of your self-doubts. You may feel urgency—time is being wasted!—but the urgency doesn’t lead to any breakthrough. You may feel frustration, irritation, anxiety, or even an instinct to give up writing entirely.

When that happens, time may be one of the only things that can help you. It might seem counterintuitive, but if you’ve hit a writing wall, if you feel time is slipping away and you’re not getting the work done you need to do, stop and give yourself some time. Time to let go of expectations. Time to get other voices in your head.

If all you’ve been listening to is your inner critic, search out the counter-argument. Reread the positive feedback you’ve had from readers—whether an editor, a beta reader, an academic reviewer. Or confide in someone you can count on—a fellow writer, a friend or partner who knows you well—who can give you some moral support as you wrestle with your writing demons. Take the time to break down those self-doubts, that naysaying internal message that has you questioning your abilities. Give yourself enough time to remember your previous successes, not to mention the satisfaction or even joy you’ve previously experienced with your writing projects.

When you’ve managed to break down the wall, face down your fears and doubts, and get back to writing, you may feel as if time is running out. Maybe you’ve got a deadline that’s now much too close for comfort. Or your schedule is too crowded with other responsibilities, and you don’t see how you’ll have enough time to spend on your writing. As hard as it may be, don’t let the panic of too little time keep you from spending some of that dwindling resource on making decisions with care and intention.

Review your writing and publishing goals. Determine your priorities. Consider alternatives. Ask yourself what you can sacrifice and what is the thing you must protect at all costs. Strive for perspective—your writing is important, but it’s never ultimately about life or death. Submitting the best possible manuscript to an agent or publisher is of course the ideal, but with no time limits you could always find something to improve. You may need to make yourself an arbitrary deadline, or simply stop when you’ve run out of time and be willing to deal with the consequences of a less-than-perfect product.

Time can feel like the enemy, but it is often your friend. If you treat it as a gift, your writing will ultimately benefit—and so will you.

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Related reading: “Managing Fear and the Unknown in Publishing”

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