Making Peace with the Time We Have

I have been thinking a lot lately about time. This is partly because over the past fifteen months I have seen three lives cut short–two by alcohol, one by cancer. It is partly because I am in my forties and I’m due for some mid-life melancholy and reflection on what I’ve done with my life so far and what I might still accomplish. And it is partly because I am purposefully slowing my publishing pace after turning in my sixth novel manuscript to my editor last month.

As I transition from a rather lengthy season of frantic activity, interrupted only briefly and incompletely by a global pandemic (I say incompletely because I never stopped working, I probably increased the number of events I was involved in through the expanded use of Zoom, and I was also under deadline the entire time), I have been trying to stop the spinning wheels of my brain and imagine a different pace of life and a different set of priorities.

I’ve been asking myself questions. What is the best use of my time? What time of day is best for what activity? How hard should I push to get through the (rather lengthy) household to-do lists I’ve written? How can I retrieve the person I once was–the person to whom it would never occur to question whether a few hours spent ambling around a forest was “wasted” time? Is that unhurried, in-tune-with-herself person still in there somewhere? That girl who never felt guilty about leaving her chores undone?

Because I miss her.



Some months ago I was reading How to Inhabit Time: Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now by James K. A. Smith. I underlined a lot of lines in that book. Lines like:

“Our past is not what we’ve left behind; it’s what we carry….We are called to live forward, given our history, bearing both its possibilities and its entanglements.”

“The horizons that circumscribe you are not fencing you out of something but entrusting you to this field of possibility. What’s thrown your way is what you can do.”

“Some years are longer than others.”

“Seasons can be expected and are something that befall us rather than something we bring on. It is important to recognize this so we don’t confuse a season with our identity, nor imagine that a season is either a reward or a punishment…. We can’t hasten either their arrival or their end.”

During Lent I have spent some time reading another book, In Good Time: 8 Habits for Reimagining Productivity, Resisting Hurry, and Practicing Peace by Jen Pollock Michel. Again, I underlined a lot (this is why I can’t get books from the library). From Michel, I took things like:

“Here’s what productivity and efficiency and time management fail to get right. The hours, like our bodies, like the world, aren’t under our control.”

“I come to learn what it means to receive the offering of another’s unhurried presence.”

“People forget love is a project of forbearance, a waiting with and waiting out. If transformation is slow in us, why can’t it also be slow in others?”

“Self-help is an industry that enthrones the self, and though this can at times feel empowering, it’s ultimately defeating. Your problems are always yours to solve through your efforts and cunning and self-discipline. Self-improvement is an exhausting, thriving business.”

“Living the Lord’s time is always a resistance movement. We will not find joy…in the three sirens of consumerism: comfort, control, and convenience….We don’t lack joy simply because we’re running too fast. It’s that we are hurrying past life and the ‘resonant’ encounters we might have with it.”



Though Smith is denser and more philosophical and Michel is grounded more in the day-to-day experience of life, I recommend both to those who are seeking to find some healthy third way, beyond the cult of productivity and hustle and that of endless slack-jawed social media scrolling. Both recognize that the way many of us have been thinking about our time is deeply self-focused and at the same time (ironically) self-destructive.

Both of these books continually come around to the admonition to number our days, to remember that we will die, that our time here is finite. But neither author then comes to the conclusion you might think obvious–namely, if time is finite I better pack as much as possible into the time I have, whether in amusements and experiences or in productive labor that will make a positive change in the world.

Yes, each admits, we are bound in some ways by linear time. We are born, we live, and we die, never knowing which will be our last day. But instead of rushing us along to the next thing on our to-do list or bucket list, Smith and Michel instead speak of attitudes of anticipation, participation, reflection, and, incredibly, contentment. These feel like things I want to have in my life. These feel like rhythms I could maintain.

Maybe like me you have a long list of projects around the house that should get done. Or maybe you have a five-year plan you’re trying put into action (or resuscitate after it was stymied by COVID). Or maybe you’re sitting there twiddling your thumbs with absolutely no idea what to do with your time. In any case, it’s worth taking the time to really think about how we want to spend our limited time here.

Time is so often seen as our enemy as we are continually looking for more of it, running out of it, keeping an eye on it. But our time, however long it is, is a gift to us. How much better to make peace with it and learn how to live within its bounds, hold our plans lightly, and continually look to our Creator for the wisdom and grace to use it well. Not to use it up, to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of it. But to enjoy it.


How to Write Your Novel’s First Draft in Just 2 Months

Late Tuesday night, I happily typed the final words of the first draft of a novel that I began 65 days before. 92,615 words, averaging out to 1,425 per day, though if you’ve been following this blog, you probably know that I don’t write every single day, and I don’t even advocate writing daily (though, if that’s your thing, more power to you).

Beyond writing, I do work full time Monday through Friday; attend church and teach Sunday school on Sundays; take my son to karate on Mondays and Fridays; teach ESL and attend choir practice and Bible study on Wednesdays; commute halfway across the state on Thursdays; and make halfhearted attempts to keep up on housework (well, sometimes).

So how? How can someone with a full life still find the time to write the draft of a full length work of fiction in a little over 2 months?

I’m glad you asked. Because I bet you can do it too–if you want to.

First, spend an entire year thinking about, researching, and sketching a rough outline of the novel before writing anything. Go ahead and make notes of scenes or particular phrases or dialogue you think of, but don’t start the real writing until you are ready. Really ready. So ready that you can’t hold back any longer. I put this first not only because it comes first chronologically, but because it was so obviously the most critical factor for me this time around.

Second, build in some concentrated blocks of writing time. I probably could have managed most days to write something on my manuscript, but to write fast and in the moment, I needed to have a string of empty days where nothing was on my schedule except writing. That’s how I got momentum. I took one week of vacation at the very beginning and another six weeks later. More than 50,000 words were written in those two weeks alone–over half the book.

Third, write first. Write before you go to work, before you do the dishes at night, before you collapse in bed and binge on House of Cards. Put the writing first for this limited amount of time while you’re working hard to get that first draft done. Now I have the whole rest of the year to relax a bit and enjoy life more while I edit at a far more leisurely pace. But if you don’t put it first for awhile, it will always get pushed back down the priorities list until it’s the last thing you do with the dregs of your energy–or it may fall off entirely.

Fourth, resist getting bogged down. There were times, especially near the end, when I had to slow down and look at the big picture again before I could see the way forward. But if you stand still too long in the muck in the middle of your book, you may find that you’re cemented there. Leave it too long, and you might give up on it. Push forward whenever you can.

Fifth, eliminate your biggest distractions. TV? Facebook? Video games? Friends? They’re all crouching on the sidelines waiting to devour your time and brain cells. Do whatever it takes to control these distractions. Have a friend take your TV and your X-box for a while. Go Cold Turkey on time-sucking Internet sites. Have your mom dog-sit for a couple months. Schedule some special times with your friends for a few months from now so you have something to look forward to.

I want to stress that I didn’t set out to write this draft at breakneck speed. I was fully expecting it to take at least twice as long as it did. The speed happened because the story wanted so badly to be told after my copious research. It was all wound up inside my brain and once I let it go, there was no stopping it. But along the way I had ample opportunities for it to get derailed. And that’s where the last three pieces of advice come in.

You have to want it. And you have to be willing to sacrifice for it, if only for a time.

I’m a pretty firm believer that a person can do almost anything for set amount of time. When I was running a lot, I convinced myself to go further and run longer by forcing myself to “at least get to the end of this song” and then “at least get to the chorus of this next song” and then “at least go one more minute.”

Can you give yourself a time frame and tell yourself that you can write for “at least this one hour today” or “every day for just this next week” or “1000 words a day for just this one month?” If you can do that, push yourself a little harder. Give yourself a deadline. Then beat it.

3 Easy Ways to Get Back into Writing Your Book

Ideally, we would all have time to work regularly on our writing projects, never allowing the fire to cool or the story to get stale. But reality is rarely ideal. It’s reality. It’s busy times at work, kids who need love, meals that need making. Those clothes won’t wash themselves, you know. So we often find ourselves torn away from our works-in-progress for a time and they turn into works-in-the-backs-of-our-minds. Sometimes we wander away from our writing fairly purposefully when we aren’t sure what comes next.

Either way, how do you get back in the groove after an absence? Here are three easy ways…

Reread. If it’s been just a few days, reread the last chapter. If it’s been more than a week or so, read what you have written so far, from the first to the last page, to get yourself not only back into the story, but also to reorient yourself to the flow of the story thus far. It’s more than simply figuring out where to go next. It’s recapturing the flow, the voice, the tension, the characters, the setting. Immerse yourself in it as a first-time reader would and you’ll be propelled forward in the story by the momentum you’ve hopefully built up. Plus you’ll see if what you’ve written thus far still holds up after letting it rest. You can also listen to what you’ve written, which gives the story another dimension altogether.

Outline. After that, see if you can outline what happens in the next few chapters. It helps to have at least a small idea of the road ahead. Just seeing a paragraph of synopsis (which I tend to write before an actual chapter is written) can almost trick you into thinking you’ve already written that chapter and give you a small feeling of accomplishment, which you can then ride into the actual writing of that chapter. Then, when it’s written, you can go back and tweak your synopsis to match what you actually wrote. In this way you are also finishing a chapter-by-chapter synopsis to put into your book proposal later. Two birds, one stone.

Research. Read over any research notes you may have taken to put you back into that world and spark your imagination with possibilities for your characters. If you are writing anything besides contemporary fiction that is set in a city like your own, you need to put yourself back in the right place, the right time period, and the right clothes. You need to pick up those speech patterns you’ve given your characters. You need to reorient yourself to that world, reintroduce yourself to its problems.

Now stop fooling around on the internet and get back to work!