By: Marilyn L. Davis
“One of the very worst uses of time is to do something very well that need not be done at all.” Brian Tracy – Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
Learning to Use the Time We Have
For more than 20 years, I ran a women’s recovery home. With up to 17 residents, there was always a crisis, emergency, or unanticipated chaotic behaviors – usually before 9 AM.
I learned to be flexible in my writing as well. I knew that some days, I’d only get a few paragraphs drafted and it might be several hours before I could edit. But writing that recovery curriculum was a priority and I treated it as such.
One of the distinct traits of addicts is that we neither valued nor respected time in our addiction. Therefore, I made time management one of the life lessons for the women of the house. Besides remaining chemically abstinent, the women needed to learn not just time management, but also learning that they had choices in how they allocated their time.
While this might seem like something that we should have learned early in life, unfortunately, most of us had squandered time, money and energy in our addictions. Therefore, we had to learn the value and importance of time and using it wisely.
Where Does the Time Go?
Many of the women complained that I expected them to do too much. I would hear in therapy sessions, “You expect us to do too much – read our curriculum, work off property, do our daily worksheets, and attend recovery support meetings or group. We don’t have enough time.”
My solution to this was to create a “How I Spend My Time” to let the residents see exactly how they allocated the resource of time. The surprising results were that over 1000 women spanning 20 years had discretionary time after fulfilling all of their obligations – sometimes as much as 4 hours, but rarely less than two. I was jealous, as I did not think I had that much discretionary time.
Now I Had the Time to Write and What Did I Do?
Since the house closed in 2011, I have edited a 400,000-word curriculum, trained counselors in the TIERS curriculum, conducted workshops on recovery, facilitated recovery groups for an HIV positive group, newcomers at a men’s facility and a study at a women’s recovery home. While I was doing all of these things, people were telling me I should find a writing site and share recovery and addiction information.
I appreciated the encouragement and interest; however, I did not know how to be a productive writer and use my time wisely.
Much of the material that I had written over the years was a reaction to a situation and I falsely believed that new inspiration was the key to effective writing. Finally, Scott Biddulph sat me down and encouraged me to write an addiction article at a site where he was writing at the time. Of course, this meant that I would have to evaluate other articles. I spent considerable time reading articles on addiction. In fact, I spent months:
- Reviewing other articles on addiction and recovery
- Printing out the articles and comparing them to mine
- Reading all the articles on how to write effectively
Then I spent a few more months:
- Re-reading all 59 of my original Personal Discovery Guides
- Narrowing it down to 15 to consider rewriting
- Revising my fifteen original articles to conform to 1800 word suggested count
- Revising my rewritten Personal Discovery Guides
- Editing my rewritten and revised post
In retrospect, it is amazing to me that I got anything written and published.
I also created the illusion that the following busy work was writing:
- Finding better images, taking the time to research all the options
- Re-reviewing my finished piece
- Buying some new books on the topics – I needed to stay informed
- Reading some of the books
- Going to the basement, finding out of print books, and re-reading them
Getting a picture? I was scattered, running in circles and wasting time for about seven months stating that I was researching writing and getting no writing accomplished.
Then I made a decision to move; well that ate up about five more months of sorting, sifting, selecting and severe anxiety and how could I possibly write in that frame of mind? Besides, I was so tired at the end of the day that I knew nothing would make sense.
Furthermore, I needed to spend quality time with my dog going on long walks that I was sure would prove inspirational to my new vocation of writer. There you have a perfect example of rationalization and justification for not writing.
Time to Take Charge of the Writing
When I switched my writing to Two Drops of Ink, I decided that I would write – not talk about it, spend hours on images for yet another article, or play with fonts to determine which displayed the words more attractively.
Moreover, if I was going to write, I needed a schedule and structure that reinforced writing. I am someone that likes organization and order. It is a family thing, like so many of our personal quirks. It is not debilitating, has not cost me a relationship, nor is it illegal, so it is just a personal quirk. I also realized that I would have to make my environment more than a home office. That conflict with home and office meant that I might not take it as seriously. Therefore, I made it as organized as I did my desk in the recovery home.
It would be the writing desk, not for paying bills, or reading a magazine, or a catch-all for stray items. Following the words of Benjamin Franklin, “A place for everything, everything in its place” meant all of my writing books needed to be accessible so I did not have to get up and hunt for them, become distracted by the plants that need watering in the living room, or decide to unload the dishwasher. All of those household things would be there when I was finished writing.
The reality is that until writing was a priority, finishing articles was a goal, and there was a designated time for the writing, the writing rarely was done.
I get up at 5 AM to write and take a break for 10 minutes at 7AM, and then back to it until 9 AM. I divide my writing time between Two Drops of Ink and my addiction blog, From Addict 2 Advocate. I still do recovery groups, add to the TIERS Curriculum, edit posts, do the laundry and water the plants.
However, when I say I am a writer now, I say it with conviction and know that I do make it a priority. When I make excuses for not writing, I know it is because writing is not my priority that day. It is always a choice; I do not kid myself anymore. If I do not write one day that is scheduled for writing, I double up the next day. It is that important to me.
I get comments from other writers that sound much like the women of the house – not enough time, other things interfere with writing, there’s a new show on TV, there are too many online distractions, I have a job, I have family obligations, etc.
I am sometimes tempted to offer the “How I Spend My Time Table” to let people see where they are using their time, and that with some planning, they might have more time to write. However, I wonder:
- Are you making your writing a priority?
- Do you still find yourself making excuses for why you are not writing?
- Is writing significant enough to you to get up early or stay up late to write?
I would like to hear your thoughts in comments.
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