The Magic of Time

Thursday Postcard

You can’t make time…can you?


I’m back in the office after a month away. It was the first vacation in ten years where I haven’t brought work.

The break revealed that, in keeping with the spirit of A Writer’s Roadmap, mistakes have been made over the last ten years.

This one was a doozy–it turns out that for that decade or more, I’ve been mistaken about the nature of reality!

Specifically, about time.

How it Began

When I started my current profession of book editing, I had young kids (6 and 10). Publishing is a time-sensitive field that revolves around deadlines, and meeting multiple concurrent deadlines requires some serious time management skills. 

I could see only one way to make it through each day without losing my mind, and that was by pouring all my time into my work and my family and scheduling pretty much everything.

I got to the point where without looking at a clock, I could tell to within a minute what time it was, just like the fictional character Jack Reacher.

Then came a month off.

Time started to morph quickly (or was it gradually? I don’t even know). 

After the first few days I lost my Jack Reacher inner clock. I sort of knew what time it was, but I didn’t really care. I had no projects or deadlines hovering over me. 

I wrote if I felt like it, read a lot, played Sudoku on my Kobo for as long as I wanted to, explored cities and towns, swam in the Ligurian Sea, and stared into space.

A lot. 

In every place we stayed, almost the first thing I’d do was pull a chair up to the window so I’d have a place to sit and stare. 

The views varied: rooftops, old stone walls, a busy street, people walking by, but the view was irrelevant.

It was more about the fact that I had this time to do what looked like nothing.

The best part was that away from my usual life, there was so little to think about!

I didn’t know anyone except my travel companions, so I wasn’t trying to meet anyone’s expectations.

I didn’t bring much, so I spent no time thinking about what to wear.

Visiting a monument, getting a meal, or taking a train doesn’t need heavy thought.

This freed me up to be there completely.

We really try, don’t we?

We humans have clock time, calendar time, bodily circadian rhythms, work schedules, social activity times, doctor and dentist times, the seasons, the stages of life, and who knows what other kinds of time? Time for meds, for a walk, for our favourite show. 

There’s also the past, the present, and the future. Evidence of the past is all around us, even inside us. The present is always moving with time. And the future is like the present except it hasn’t happened yet. 

Whatever you’re doing now creates your future, in some ways. Show me someone who spends several hours a night watching TV and I can tell you what they’ll be really good at in five years.

Then there’s subjective time. We might call it psychological time. It can fly, it can drag, it can sort of disappear, depending on what you’re doing.

The thing that’s changed since I got back from time off, which we might as well call ‘time on,’ given how alive it made me feel, is that I’m no longer buying my old view of time.

So what is time, then?

TIME spelled backward is EMIT. Maybe time can be viewed as an emission, almost like radio waves. Maybe time comes from outer space!

(Just a theory; my science education ended in Kindergarten.)

We try to capture time and make it human-sized with clocks and calendars, but there are levels and attributes of time we can’t see or comprehend from our human perspective. 

I believe that time flows in various bandwidths. Hidden streams of time operate beyond our ken.

One of these streams surfaces when you sit at a window and watch the sky change. When you drop your thinking and have no plans.

How time and writing relate

Your writing is a reflection of your life, and your life includes how you see time. In fact, I don’t think it’s overstating to say that how you see time forms your life.

When I came back to work, the thing I noticed most was a feeling of wonder about the projects I had completed in the last ten years.

I’d created them on the margins of my full-time editing work. Writing my own books, inventing courses…making things.

These projects came into being despite what I perceived (and lived) as a “shortage” of time.

Often in the act of doing them I felt rushed, or guilty, or dilatory. I thought of time as a commodity. I measured my progress by the clock and the calendar. 

It wasn’t until I took a break from time that I could see the things I created with the wonder they deserve.

Now that I’m back at work, the vacation is both a memory and a reality, something that happened that changed my view of time, which according to my theory, can’t help but change my life.

The takeaway

If time is wavelengths, then moving from one bandwidth to another is not only possible but necessary. Otherwise you get stuck in a time rut.

If you are a creator and you’re looking for more time to create, you might start with being more aware of all the ways you treat time and think about time. 

Find out what makes time disappear for you. 

Notice where you spend time, and what makes you swerve away from the tasks you want to do. I mean tasks that lead to something you can look at with wonder, like like building a house, creating some art or a business, working a craft, or writing a book.

Let me know what you think by hitting reply! I love your emails.

p.s. Here’s a link to 19 questions that will illuminate your circadian rhythm.
p.p.s. Here’s an interesting look at what we get wrong about time (which I don’t entirely agree with, but you be the judge).