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Writing, Verbs and Time

image by Stereo Phonik

Is there anything more precious to a writer than time? It’s the resource that makes all the difference. Time to think. Time to write. Time to edit. Time with readers. And we need time for all the other things in our lives, of course, which can be deeply challenging to balance, especially as we head into the holiday season.

You may have heard that the way to find time to write is not to view it as “finding” time at all. Instead, say the so-called experts, you need to “make” time.

The reasoning goes thusly: finding is too passive, as if you are just waiting around for the time to show up. And maybe there’s some truth to that. How easy is it to shrug off something we didn’t get around to doing by saying “I just couldn’t find the time?”

Make has more muscle to it. We forced that time into existence! We made it! Go, us!

But I don’t think that’s the right verb either.

December 1st was the deadline to turn in the first draft of my next novel to my editor, the most challenging book I’ve written, requiring more research and more narrative complexity than I’ve ever tackled before. I also hosted and cooked Thanksgiving dinner for over a dozen people last week. No one twisted my arm on either project; I signed on to both willingly. With a major writing deadline clashing head-on with an important personal and family event, I didn’t “find” time to write over the past week; nor did I “make” time. I didn’t spend it or save it or waste it or fritter it away.

Instead, I chose times for each task. When would I write? When would I give myself permission not to be writing? How would I manage my non-writing workload with the same attention and care? I chose to ask friends to bring side dishes to Thanksgiving dinner, lowering the number of dishes I needed to choose time to cook. I chose to simplify the appetizers and sides I did make. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I chose to schedule time to clean up the house over several evenings after my writing time, figuring I didn’t need to be mentally fresh to put away shoes and recycle stray magazines. The day of the event, I chose to let my kids set the table. (They did a terrible job and everybody loved it.)

I chose to schedule babysitters in large chunks of time on the weekend. I chose to stay up late some nights and wake up early some mornings. One night I chose to go to bed at 9pm, because I needed to recharge in order to have enough energy for a final push. I chose. I chose. I chose.

And while neither my Thanksgiving dinner nor the book I’m turning in is precisely perfect — what dinner ever is? what draft ever is? — I feel absolutely content with the choices I made. Because I chose to make them.

The right verb can summon a character, move a plot, define a scene. We spend a lot of time choosing exactly the right verbs for our writing. Sometimes, it helps to choose the right ones for our life.

About Jael McHenry [2]

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter [3] (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com [4] or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.