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Writers Learned How to Use Time Differently During COVID-19

In normal times, people typically have clear-cut schedules with some predictability, but during COVID-19, time took on a whole new elastic meaning. Many writers learned how to use time differently to benefit their writing.

by Jenna Kalinsky.

My kids love this joke:

So the bartender says, “Sorry, we don’t serve time travelers here!”

A time traveler walks into a bar.

~

Time is such an interesting concept. Even though it is a construct imposed on the turning of the earth, humans have rigidly scaffolded it such that in every culture, people eat, sleep, work, and play according to specific determinations as to how time should be handled.

This is why when a business contact says, “I’ll call you first thing in the morning,” we automatically know that said person will not be phoning at dawn but at 9 a.m.

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Having a firm daily structure works for a lot of people, but schedules are not typically designed to allow for extras, things that aren’t allotted a segment within the structure.

Fixing a cabinet, trying a new hobby, or beginning the book you’ve wanted to write for years often go undone not because they’re insurmountable projects- all three of these examples are entirely surmountable!– but because one has to battle against an unyielding system to make room to build or create.

*You know the expression “carve out” time? Don’t you imagine someone holding a chisel and sitting at the base of a mountain? With this mental image, it’s no wonder people don’t write books!

People who already have existing writing practices have learned how to use time and incorporate their writing into their schedules.

But for those new to wanting to create? One can only imagine all of the art left unmade because the energy required to fight the system is often more than one can bear.


When COVID-19 hit, that’s when the concept of time became fragmented, stretched, and pixilated- as if it were flying around our heads like confetti.

One might imagine this upending was similar to what happens with a newborn in the house, when day is night and night is interminable, and when your body, mind, and spirit don’t know which end is up.

That’s a time of survival and, while so was our time during COVID, it was also different. We still knew which end was up, and we were still harnessed with our daily tasks – far more if you had kids constantly underfoot, or were caring for a family member- but everything was different. It was like Time Jenga!

 

For some, this upending of a foundational component of our lives was baffling, disorienting, and stressful; for others, it presented a unique opportunity for change.

Once time became so gelatinous, so blobby and jellyfish-like, the psychic pressure that you had to bulldoze your way into such a rigid existing scaffold was … lifted.

 

Moreover, the stakes were lower because those pre-existing things we had to keep doing were now being performed in a whole new context, meaning everything we were doing was in a sense new.

We were doing math with our kids (sometimes in other languages); we were baking with new ingredients because we couldn’t get our hands on all-purpose flour or eggs.

For those writers who were scrambling, they learned that by not carving out or making room or thinking very much at all but instead plunking down and doing it, launching into writing Chapter 1 of their new book was a lot easier.

Who’d have thought such a great teachable moment could have come from COVID?

There indeed were many, but this one was a revelation.

 

Not More Time, But A Different Experience of Time

This is not to say writers had more time; most had far less. We became our own and our families’ sole source of education, information, entertainment, and food processing, never mind the never-ending stream of Zoom meetings, checking in with loved ones, and living room Zumba classes.

If you were unable to work or didn’t have to commute long hours anymore, you may have found yourself with some extra time, which was a miracle. But for those caring for others, they were as tapped as could be.

It was the mindset, the elasticity, the throwing it all to the wind that worked in writers’ favors. 

I had a client who for many months prior to COVID had been intellectually and emotionally ready to begin working on a book.

Once COVID hit, she became exponentially busier. But seeing how time was operating for me and many other writers, I wrote to her and said, “you’ll never have time like this again to write your book.”

Initially, she basically e-laughed in my face. But then, as she kept writing, I could see her coming around to the same idea. She wasn’t able to sit down and write her book in the classic sense, but she realized if she perceived time differently she could squeeze in some writing here and there, dictate ideas into her phone, and make headway without cracking her knuckles and spending 4 hours in her writing chair.

  

Using Our Time

 

Some coped with COVID-19’s impact by curling up and letting their bodies and minds dictate what or how much they could take on. Fatigue and lack of motivation to do much of anything let alone extras was a normal response to the particular stress the pandemic brought on.

But others felt ready to occupy their time and give themselves the opportunity to finally start those projects that had been psychically weighing down their to-do lists. They saw this elasticity of time as a gift, a way to inspire and expand, which in and of itself was motivating.

It was also possible to assert a schedule inside of this time. This writer talks about how if she doesn’t maintain a writing schedule, her work goes out the window.

Holding down a schedule

a) makes the work happen

b) is freeing for her so she knows that’s when the work will happen and she’s relieved, alleviated from not having to think about it

While writing this article, I got an email from someone I hadn’t spoken with in at least a year. She said she’d gained clarity around her priorities and was starting to do the things that gave her pleasure and deep satisfaction that she hadn’t let herself do before COVID-19. She was ready to write- something she loved that she’d shelved because life got in the way. Because, she said, if not now, then when?

This virus showed us a lot of things, among them that life is fragile, special, and something to respect and to celebrate. Writing is how we arrest our attention and see things anew. It became a strangely beautiful time to put our voices to the page.

Un-Scheduling Your Writing

Ordinarily, because I believe that our bodies are as in tune with our schedules as our minds, I am a proponent for embodying your writing process by putting it on a schedule so that it becomes an organic aspect of the scaffold.

I created an entire self-guided course (“Cultivating Creativity: How to Start and Sustain a Writing Habit in 31 Days“) to support writing becoming a habit through embodying the practice every day for a month for this exact reason.

If you haven’t learned how to use time differently and it’s still something you must carve out or find space for- and that is proving difficult- please reach out to let us help.

Often having someone on the other side of your process, helping you schedule your time, remain accountable, and to cheer you on with insights, exercises, and motivation is the key to showing up to your time in new ways- and to getting your writing done.

One Response

  1. That’s it, “then what matters is that the writing happens”. COVID be damned! Truly, life does get in the way of writing. While time is always a constraint, it is also an excuse, at least for me, as I struggle with the emotional side of life’s happenings. Things over which we have no control. There comes a time when all that baggage has to be kicked to the curb. “Writing is how we arrest our attention and see things anew”. Although, sometimes the muck we are stuck in is very dense and sticky and it takes effort to pull yourself out, it feels free and liberating when the words start to flow. I love how Margaret Atwood expresses this. “A word after a word after a word is a power”. Perhaps time structuring (an artificial concept) doesn’t really matter for the writer. Inspiration strikes at the most inopportune time.What matters is that we have so many stories to tell. And, it all starts when that first word materializes onto the page. I/we have the power to make writing happen. Thanks, Jenna.

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