This Post is a Waste of Time (or maybe not)

There is a saying that you teach what you need to know. I often write about ways to get beyond writer’s block. Guess why?

sunupActually, it’s because I want to pass on my awesomeness to you. I’m super-uper-duper at writing fast and furious without a moment’s hesitation. I get out of bed at 5 am every morning and I’m at my desk by 5.15am, after I’ve done fifteen minutes of meditation, 3 yoga poses, prepared my kids’ packed lunches and put a load of washing in the machine. Oh, and I’ve eaten porridge for breakfast, fed the cats and knitted a pair of fluffy socks.

I then write non-stop till 7am when everyone else gets up (lazy sods.) For the next 55 minutes to 1.45 hours (depending on whether it’s a walking to school day or I am driving them) I give myself over to my family, tending to their needs and moods with infinite patience and calm. I would never, ever dream of checking emails or Facebook for updates during that time, nor of hiding in a corner while everyone yells, “Where’s my trainers? I have gym today!” Because that never happens in our house. (Though I might point out the incorrect grammar and explain it should be, “Where are my trainers?” Trainers being plural…)

When everyone has gone, I return to my desk and I do not look up till 1pm, by which time I will have written at least 20,000 words of a novel, three articles, six blog posts (3 of which are guest posts for other bloggers, because I am generous that way) and the next 10,000 words of my memoirs.If I have time, I might write a short story, just for fun.

Yeah right.

But the way some poeple go on, you’d think that is what happens.

So back in the real world.

Yes, I admit, the reason I write so much about overcoming writer’s block is because I’ve had a lot of practice! I overcome writer’s block several times a week, and sometimes several times a day.

It’s not constant. Some mornings I wake up with so many thoughts racing through my head I can’t type or write fast enough to get them onto screen or paper. Sometimes I do write at 5.15 am, but usually I am still under the quilt then, using a torch (flashlight) to see by if my husband is asleep beside me. (And if he’s on an early shift then his alarm going off at 4.30 was what woke me.)

When the blocks do hit, I have tools. (And I don’t mean a hod for carrying said blocks.) I realise that it is just fear, so I welcome the fear and often it dissolves. I get started, and then a thought comes. Usually that thought is, “This isn’t working out properly. You need to change it.”

Another favourite is, “Even if you think this is good, it doesn’t mean anyone else will.”

Or, “You think this is good right now, but when later on you’ll realise it’s rubbish. You always do.” That one loves to turn up after those 5 am scribbles, when I have been feeling thrilled by my brilliant idea.

Only this morning, as I avoided writing by posting a status update on Facebook about how cold it was and how I was still wearing my coat, I realised something. In spite of all the many ways I’ve dragged myself through the fog of writer’s block to produce short stories, articles, blog posts, one completed novel and two half-finished ones, there was a niggling thought once again occupying my mind.

Well two thoughts actually.

The first was: “You’ve run out of ideas or forgotten how to write.” It was a version of the thoughts I’ve been aware of for years and have found ways to get round.

workhardThe other thought was sneakier, and masqueraded as useful advice. It told me that if I didn’t start right now I was going to do the same thing I “always” do and end up not getting enough done in the morning and so spend the evening working on a blog post due later today. (This post as it happens.)

That thought came accompanied by a gripping feeling in my stomach. It came accompanied by images of “everyone else” (whoever they might be) writing away while I waste time. It came accompanied by memories of rushing at the last minute, and of feeling guilt and shame because of that.

Not long ago I read an article about the rise in mindfulness, in which the writer explained she realised she’d been following mindfulness for years – only until now she’d thought it was called ‘wasting time.’ She was a big believer in the benefits of wasting time. The article wasn’t very serious, and her grasp on what mindfulness is was tenuous. (She cited ‘staring out the window’ as an example – I suppose it could be mindful, but it could just as easily not be.)

But what struck me was how this writer’s day began wasn’t that far removed from mine. By the time she’d got the kids off, done chores and checked social media, it was eleven o’ clock. Then she got down to work. Work lasted till she’d written an article that took an hour or two – and then she had a rest. I expect she was exaggerating, but her point was that wasting time could be seen as a good thing, and this did bring me pause for wonder. (This pause was either wasting time or practising mindfulness, you take your pick.) I didn’t keep the article and can’t remember who wrote it, so, sadly, I can’t waste time finding it and linking up. I’m sure you’d have liked to waste time reading it.

When I was a kid, I really believed that wasting time was a bad, bad thing. It was especially bad to waste time reading or drawing when I should have been doing homework or tidying my room. Or daydreaming when I should have been working. It’s what we hear over and over isn’t it? And yes, I’ll hold my hand up and admit I’ve probably said the same thing to my kids when I’ve seen them watching yet another gif on Tumblr.

In a culture that values busyness and productivity, and where the scenario in this post’s opening paragraphs is not far removed from the stories people tell about how we are supposed to live, it’s all too easy to feel we aren’t working hard enough or smart enough or enough enough.

sleepingThe idea that we should get up at 5am to write or be productive has been repeated so often it has become almost universally accepted as good. Google: “5 am club,” and you’ll see what I mean.

Here are some examples:

“Your life is too precious a thing to waste.” (And to not waste it you must get up at 5am.)

“Rising Early: Why Successful People Do It & How You Can Too” (Um, so is Barack Obama not successful then? He gets up the same time I do – 7am.)

Of course, if it suits you, there’s nothing wrong with rising early. As this article 7 Benefits of Waking Up Early suggests, it can be beneficial to your health.

However, in the post Famous Writers’ Sleep Habits vs. Literary Productivity, Visualized, Maria Popova lists some famous authors by rising time and productivity. She found that late risers tended to have written more, though earlier risers had won more awards.

So even the post about late or early risers focuses on how work gets done!

All this talk of being mega-productive is not that different to the Photoshopped images of models that adorn every magazine. Neither is real. Nobody can maintain the kind of schedule some claim without risking long-term damage. Kate White of Cosmopolitan evens says, “I regularly do my work standing up at a rolling butcher block counter in my kitchen. If I were to work sitting down, I’d fall asleep.”

I appreciate her honesty, but really why would I aspire to that?

The funny thing is, I can remember, as a child, lying in grass and watching the clouds float by. I can remember standing on a rock in the Atlantic and imagining I could see America beyond the horizon. I can remember standing on hilltops and feeling the wind blow through my hair.

On none of those occasions did I think I was wasting time. Neither did I, when years later, as a new mother, I stood watching my baby sleep. If I stand on a hilltop now (even if only in my mind) and feel guilty for doing so, that is far more of a waste of time than doing nothing is. What I somehow learned to forget in my childhood guilt for wasting time was what these moments are what remind us of who we are. They are the moments that nourish us, the feed our souls. That’s never a waste of time. (And possibly worth getting up early for?)

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post and I am very proud to say I am co-hosting this week!!
Yay! I feel honoured to be in such great company as:

Kristi of Finding Ninee

and Stephanie of Mommy For Real

Today’s sentence is, “When I was a kid, I really believed that…”

Finish the Sentence Friday

Comments

  1. I’m so very glad you cohosted this week! Honestly, I cannot say how many times I have thought that I’ve said everything I want to say, and that each time I post, it’s either dumb, or the same, or whatever. But the thing is – we’re writers, right? (wright?? heh)
    I love your advice and that you – who has written a for real amazing book – still feels this way. It gives me hope, and makes me want to write and carry on. Thank you for that, and thank you for cohosting this week!!!

    1. Author

      Kristi, oh how I love that this gives you hope – especially when you’ve been so encouraging this week when I was having a bout of “blocky” thoughts! I think almost all writers go through this, even ones who are hugely successful. In Stephen King’s “On Writing,” he says that he got stuck with it and left it for a while. And James Joyce apparently struggled hugely to get any words on paper.
      Thanks so much for inviting me to co-host. It truly is an honour.

  2. love this post, oh sleep. I used to wake up super early as a kid and teen, I had so much to do and so little time. Now I beg, cry, and whine just to sleep…instead I toss and turn and my son wakes me up early….I hope he’s successful in life with all the early hours he’s awake.

    1. Author

      Yes, Karen, sleep is so precious when you have young kids! He may yet sleep till noon in a few years time. My early-bird daughter would now sleep all day I think!
      Thanks for your comment.

  3. Hi Yvonne. Lovely to “meet” you here. I’m FTSF #11 – yes, the charmer without the photo. Ha! Loved this post – took me back to the days of when I was wee and spent hours on my tummy pawing through the grass looking for four leaf clovers. It didn’t occur to me that I was potentially wasting time. I was going to find at least one four leaf clover and have luck the rest of my life.

    1. Author

      Hello Kelly and nice to meet you too! Looking for 4 leaf clovers was a pastime of mine too! I found it fascinating as I was writing this to see how some things deemed wasting time, but others not. I guess it was mostly to do with when we did them. If I was “meant” to be outside playing then those idle moments were fine, but if I was “meant” to be doing the washing up, they were not.
      Did you ever find a 4 leaf clover?

  4. First, I love British English. Favourite, realise, trainers…. 🙂

    Second, YES to “wasting time.” I’ve said over and over that I often come to the “epiphany” part of my writing while I am brushing my teeth or driving or doing something other than my focused work. Daydreaming allows the creativity in….

    I will say, though, that I love my early mornings. It’s 6am and I’ve already meditated 30 minutes. But now I’m checking FB… 🙂 It’s all about balance, right?

    1. Author

      Sarah, I actually thought of you when I’d written that bit about the 5am club, because I remembered you are an early riser! But I haven’t noticed you saying everyone should do it or they will be wasting their lives or are slackers! Some people are larks and that’s fine. In a way I wish I was because I do like the early morning when nobody else is up and I did get up earlier when my girls were little, but they went to bed earlier so I did too. As they’ve got later at night, I usually end up later too, and I need my sleep! You’re spot on that it’s about balance!

      I love what you say about daydreaming allowing the creativity in – exactly! And I also get epiphanies while brushing teeth, or often while cooking or doing the washing up.

      Oh and I didn’t realise trainers was a British word – what’s the American for them? Is it sneakers? Or jogging shoes?

  5. I am still more likely to see 5am from the other side. And I love idling and procrastinating. Clearly I am not struck by the same horror of waste of time. When my brain isn’t too busy, that’s when poetry and considerings happen…

    1. Author

      Yes, Lizzi, I’ve read about your night-owl habits! I couldn’t do it that way either, but during my “research” I came across several big-name night owls. I think one of the Google guys said the only way he sees the sunrise is if he’s done an all-nighter.

      I also love down time, to just *be* – but sometimes beliefs seem to come with an automatic replay button – you know it’s not true, but its start running through your mind again. That’s why I am so thankful for the techniques I use to notice these thoughts and their effects and to let them go.

      You keep on idling and allowing the poetry and considerings to happen! And thanks for your comment.

  6. I love this post. BTW – you had me at the beginning. As I was reading I thought, this woman is not human! too keep reading about how writers get up at 5a.m. (or 4a.m.!) and know it won’t work for me! As it is, I have to get up at 5:45 a.m. anyway to start getting the troops ready (the first bus rills up at 6:46a.m.!). Plus, I am so not a morning person.

    I just read a great book, Write Every Fay, byt Cathy Yardley, that had great advice about writers block. My biggest issue is time management, for sure!

    1. Author

      Allie, you didn’t believe that?!! 😀 You made my day! I certainly would not be human if I could do all that, for sure. Some people do thrive in the early morning and in a way I’d love to be one of those people but I’ve had to accept that I’m not. 5.45 sound early to me. And time management – what’s that? 🙂

  7. I just LOVE your insight into things. The quote about not realizing you’re being mindful and labeling it as “wasting time” is brilliant. I think that as a child I was actually much better at not feeling guilty about wasting time. I long for that sense of connection with myself and being in the moment I had as a child. I loved how accurately you’ve captured the thought process we all experience as we go through mini and maxi writer’s blocks. I’m going to pin this on my Pinterest board for bloggers, this is such a gem of a post!

    1. Author

      Aw, thanks Katia! For your sweet comment and for pinning! I think as a small child I probably didn’t feel the guilt so much and it fully kicked in around teenage years. But I grew up on a small farm where we regularly had chores to do and I often made the chores into a game that lasted far longer than it should – and so the scoldings for wasting time.
      What you say about longing for the sense of connection with yourself and being in the moment is interesting, because I don’t actually think we do lose it, I think we just stop noticing it. We get so convinced that there’s a problem that we keep looking for the problem instead of noticing that actually we are in the moment much of the time. Start looking for it, and I suspect you’ll find it. I bet you are when you look at your kids sleeping for instance!
      Thanks again!

  8. What a beautiful post. I find that when I let myself fully enjoy my “wasted time”, rather than feeling guilty about it, I get about the same amount of work done and feel infinitely happier.

    1. Author

      Catherine yes! Fully enjoying the wasted time far more likely to get the work done. I’ve noticed that too.
      Thanks for that!

  9. Rest assured, I will never be up and productive at 5 am – in the past I may have stayed up until 5 am, but I wasn’t engaged in productive pursuits. I’m way too old to stay up past midnight now and way too ill disciplined to get up before 6 am. It’s not fashionable, but I like sleep and lots of it, so I think I’ll continue being a happy little napper and leave someone else to bother the dawn.

    1. Author

      Judith, yes midnight is about my latest too, and even then it feels too late. Fashion or not, sleep’s good for you, so keep it up! I envy you the ability to nap though, since I’ve never been able to do that.
      Thanks for your comment.

  10. I like how you start you day early just to write…dedication sure reflects upon your writing.

    I usually get up around 5.30 but that is mostly to pack up lunches/b’fast for family and then after my usual ritual of some light exercises sit down to pen down my thoughts.

    Loved your quotes and happy to see you co-host it 🙂

    1. Author

      Um, no Ruchira. I don’t get up early! That bit wasn’t serious. But I do sometimes write if I wake early and can’t get back to sleep. I’m really not super-human, just muddling along like everyone else.
      Thanks for your comment and I feel so delighted to have been a co-host. Now I’ve started with FTST I love it!

  11. This was a great post Yvonne. For the first part of I was reading and saying, “Wow she sure is organized!” You gave me a big laugh when I got to “yeah right”. I am a little more organized during the school year. I get up earlier and it just gives me a better grip on our day. I WISH I could write 20,000 words a day.

    1. Author

      Ha, ha! I got you! I once wrote almost 10,000 words during a NaNoWriMo, but many of them were total drivel and I was exhausted! But 20,000 – yes it would be nice, but don’t think it will be happening any time soon.
      Thanks for your comment!

  12. Hi Yvonne: I think that “wasting time” is an essential part of creativity. If you are trying to make something that the world has never seen before, or expose a point of view that is unique, you will need to take time to come at it from different ways. I beieve that it is important to be disciplined in working, but evoking new and beautiful images does require a bit of daydreaming!

    1. Author

      Anna, I agree. “Wasting time” is essential for creativity. I’ve noticed that many times in fact. I guess it is finding a balance, or maybe more allowing the balance. We don’t need to find it – it’s there already but we don’t always pay attention to it. I actually think that discipline comes naturally when we allow it, whereas trying to force it causes resistance. At least, that’s my experience.
      Thanks for your comment.

  13. That was so great, Yvonne, and it really resonated with me. I’m so glad you were a co-host this week! It is so hard to ignore those voices, those ingrained beliefs about what constitutes wasting time, and what our lives “should” look like. I also hate that “what is everybody else doing?” voice that pops up so often. Thanks so much for this relatable, inspiring post!

    1. Author

      Stephanie, I am thrilled to have co-hosted, and to read this resonated with you. Regarding the ingrained beliefs – have you read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott? She’s one of my favourite writers on writers, and says that quieting the voices is half the battle she has daily. Nowadays, for me, giving the voices their say and then letting them go works better than trying to fight them does, but reading that book was such a revelation to me.

  14. Great post, Yvonne–and I think you’re right about the flexibility (permeability?) of the idea of “wasting time.” I’ve never been an early morning writer (at least, not if I could help it), but I’ve written 5 novels and more than 500 blog posts and…well, lots of stuff. And I’m a championship time-waster; but I see it as “gathering fodder,” not frittering away my days. Well, most of the time I see it that way.

    All of which is to say that I think we all have our self-criticizing Achilles’ heels. The trick, I find, is to ignore mine as much as possible. Doesn’t always work, but it’s a start.

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