Time. The older I get, the more perspective I have. Right now, I’m thinking … damn, I’m going to be dead soon. OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but some days, it feels like I could go at any minute.
Constant reminders abound, speeding up the tick, tick, tick in my head. Take renovations, for example. I just picked composite decking for my new porch, promised to last 40 years, knowing it’ll survive longer than I will.
That’s an eye opener, kids.
Which leads me to writing an unofficial Part 2 to Ciara Duggan’s recent piece, “Is Time Running Out?”
Ciara is about to become a new mother, while my first child just got married. She’s looking forward, as I’m looking backward, wondering where the hell all that time went.
Time is running out!
Don't waste time panicking, though. Breathe.
Sure, parenting takes a gigantic commitment, but so does writing. I’ve had to remind myself that nothing worth pursuing is simple. Challenges, and yes, time struggles, can bring frustrations, but they can also bring joy and understanding of the world.
Ciara’s journey of motherhood launches an incredible chapter of her life that will not only personally fulfill her, but will also bring wisdom to her writing. She’ll relate to her characters more and find a new understanding in old stories she’s read or movies she’s watched.
Sophie’s Choice, anyone? Or maybe Titanic. I vividly remember bawling my eyes out in the scene where the mother was in the belly of the ship, knowing her babies would drown, but choosing to lovingly read them a story in bed, keeping their last moments innocent and calm. Or the night I took my now married daughter to see Toy Story 3, right before sending her off to college, mirroring Andy’s life.
Yep, you guessed it. More tears. Not just from me, but from every parent in that theater.
Those are scenes that writers who have experienced the unconditional love and trust of a child would most likely approach differently than someone who hasn’t.
Unlike Ciara, I didn’t have a set age I wanted to achieve writing success. I never gave that a thought. My only thought was that I had endless time. I was young. Hungry. Naïve about how quickly that clock ticks.
I was invincible.
I was also wrong. We have no control over time. We can’t will it to stop. We can’t press the pause button. We need to make choices.
Since I’m a mother, let me give advice that you'll most likely ignore. Don’t worry, I’m used to it, so here it goes …
Protect your time. Cliché, I know, but true. It’s the most valuable asset you have. That, and your health. Because without it, your time is up. Gone. Dead. Kinda hard to write when you’re six-feet under.
Now that I’ve freaked you out, let’s take a more psychologically healthy approach.
Yes, you technically have more time to write when you don’t have five jobs in order to pay the mortgage, kids, or an ailing parent to care for. But have you ever noticed that whatever time you do have in a day, somehow gets filled up before you know it?
It doesn’t really matter what quantity of time you have in your life, you have to make a conscious effort to pursue what’s important to you.
So, how do you protect your time?
Exercise your free will. We all make a choice, and if you’re always choosing to use your time to please other people, you’ll be putting your own goals on hold.
If you’re motivated by money, maybe think of time as a dollar sign. If you spend X hours doing something you don’t really want to do, how much will that “cost” you? But if you’re motivated by emotion, ask, “If I say yes to this request, will I feel resentful?”
Resentment adds to stress, and stress adds to a decline in health, and a decline in health leads to … I won’t say the D word again, but you can.
One of my friends shared the best advice the other day …
“Don’t suffer twice. By worrying and stressing about something that hasn’t happened yet, you’re already suffering.”
Worrying kills creativity.
People also suffer by comparing themselves to others. Stop doing that. Seriously. STOP! Who cares what other people do? They aren’t living your life. Everyone has different challenges, and you have no idea what their real life is like. You only “know” the life they choose to share—which could be a sham.
The Compare Game™ serves no one.
Ciara was already 20 steps ahead of me when I was her age, by not only knowing what she wanted to do, but also by having a published novel before her baby was even growing in her belly.
Does that mean I should beat myself up, or drown in jealousy? See my quote above about suffering twice. No, thank you.
Everyone has their own story. Trust me, no one’s life is easy. Social media just makes it look that way. We all wake up puffy and ugly, and we all go to bed not having fulfilled some sort of dream.
The trick is to not get stuck—stuck in beating yourself up or stuck in a rut. Fear of change, fear of failure, fear of … success. All of it paralyzes emotional growth—and wastes time.
Change can be a gift.
Every day you’re with the wrong person or in the wrong job is a missed opportunity to find the right fit. Dare I suggest that every day you spend time working on the wrong story, you could be writing a better one that might actually sell.
Think about what you put your characters through. We push them to their brink. We toss conflict at them like confetti. Why? To make our stories interesting, but also to force our characters to evolve.
Robert McKee states that a character is defined by how they behave under pressure. We use that tool in our writing—why not use it in our lives?
But don’t just bail when things get tough. Again, think about your characters. What would you make them do? If they quit every time they hit a wall, the story would fail. They almost always have to go through a shit storm to achieve their goals. That rocky path leads to a better story, and for the mere mortal writer, a far more interesting life.
We need to live in order to learn and, in turn, bring those themes into our writing.
What is the theme of your life?
Oh yeah, pause on that for a hot minute. That's worthy of at least five therapy sessions.
This has been a year of drastic change for me, leading to deep reflection. As I moved from my home of 22 years, I had to touch every single thing I owned. Many of those things involved art—the charcoal drawings I created in my 20s, files upon files of screenplay drafts, and research for new story ideas I had long forgotten.
I was shocked at the trajectory of my existence. My life today is a totally different life than it was when I moved into that home.
In my personal life, I like a plan. But the most surprising lesson in the move was realizing I hadn’t outlined my professional life. Instead, I’ve lived it like a pantser. I had no idea where I was going or what I wanted to achieve. That was clear when I re-read college journals. Sidenote: I even found my spiral notebook of high-school angst poems, which I promised Sadie I’d read on “Reckless Creatives,” so stay tuned for that gem.
I was not one of those lucky people who, at the age of five, felt the pull of being a writer. Actually, I had no career aspirations at all. On the eve of my 30th birthday, I remember telling my husband exactly that, wondering if I was wasting my life, or what was wrong with me that I had no vision for my future. I was 40 before I found my writing muse, but I would never have dreamed, that from my small, country town, I would end up being Editor in Chief of Script magazine or working as Senior Editor at Writer’s Digest. Nor did I even know that Pipeline existed, let alone allow myself to imagine what a life as an executive would look like.
But there I was, staring at my life’s possessions, proving anything is possible, especially the unexpected.
My point is, if I’ve lived so many completely different lives already—mother, volunteer, motel and restaurant owner, antique dealer, writer, black belt, student, instructor, etc.—what’s to say I don’t have a few more surprises left in me? Things I never imagined.
I’m counting on it.
It’s not about time running out, it’s about carving time out and being open to unexpected paths.
Think of it this way—when you write a story, you probably write an outline, right? Well, by setting life goals, you’re creating an outline for yourself. But just as you deviate from that outline in writing, you can deviate from it in living life.
Oftentimes, just like in writing, those deviations are even better than the original plan.
That is absolutely true of my life.
Or think of life like a rewrite—the first attempt maybe didn’t go as planned, so reboot and start over. What do you wish you had done? Can you still correct course?
There’s no expiration date on reinventing yourself, well, that is until you’re dead. If there is breath in you, you can do anything. Just make a decision to do it.
Maybe instead of asking if time is running out, we should be asking if we’re leaving the world a better place—either because of the children we’ve raised or the art we’ve created. Both of them take time, love, understanding and unconditional dedication.
I'm just going to say it—we’re all going to die. We just don’t know when.
If your eyes opened this morning, congratulations, you’ve still got time! The question is, what are you going to do with it?
*Feature image by Cristina Bernazzani (Adobe)