The time which we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it; and habit fills up what remains. ~ Vol II, Within A Budding Grove, Marcel Proust
There are 168 hours in one week. The best way to determine how to use those hours is to recognize or establish your values and be clear about them. Then you can decide how to fill your time to balance writing with a job, family, etc., as well as how best to use your hours to write, how to enrich your life, and how to use the writing time within the parameters you set. There is also the balance of reading novels and writing. I prefer not to read fiction while I’m writing a novel – I do it between books as one way to refill the creative well.
A friend just noted that the kids in her neighborhood have no idea how to read an analog clock. We are in a kind of war with time itself when you look at analog and digital clocks. Consider a disconnected individual point in time. No longer the hands on a clock face flowing (much like traditional narrative), showing time as movement from one place to another, from someplace to somewhere. A digital readout displays isolated moments of time – 10:31 am, 11:18 am. Has this affected modern narrative, sometimes at the expense of character development? Perhaps. But can be a creative choice that offers its own aesthetic.
Snake by Kate Jennings is like that digital clock. She uses specific moments of time to portray the unraveling of a marriage. There are 76 chapters in 157 pages where time is revealed in snapshots of the characters’ lives. Although it is the antithesis of Snake, Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past also deals with what is permanent and what is transitory. Jennings creates a cohesive picture of tragedy; Proust recorded the wearing away of time, yet both books – so different in length, scope and approach – manage to reveal things about time in fascinating ways. One can be read in an afternoon, the other takes a far greater investment of time. Here’s an online journal on reading Proust.
Is an investment in analog time worthwhile to your reader? That’s a question only you as a writer can answer because it goes to the core of how you think about writing, time, your values and artistic sensibility. Slipping into the flow of the great writers has been profoundly rewarding to me. As an artist, you must evaluation your own relationship to time.
When I was hard pressed for time – and there can be many reasons, most often a day job and/or small children, an ailing parent, etc. – I learned to write in 10 minute increments. I know writers (and am most emphatically not one) who get up at 4 am to write for two hours before their family is up and everyone has to go to work and school. That’s dedication. Not everyone can manage that. I say trust your body and your method. If you don’t work well when you’re tired, get some sleep and learn to work in 5 and 10 minute increments because it is possible to get a lot done in less time than you think. That kind of time management is successful based on what works best for you.
Now, about time in your narrative…. If you really want to learn about both time and a strong narrative arc in one pass, write a screenplay. It’s a highly disciplined form of writing in which time management is vital. My Dinner With Andre aside, no one wants to sit through long slogs of conversation or backstory. (note: I have mixed feelings about Certified Copy, but I’m still thinking about it hours later so it is thought-provoking, particularly about marriage and what happens over years) Anyway, if you have one of those long conversations, it had better be riveting or there’d better be a good reason for the effect (boredom) if it’s not.
When you’re constructing a narrative, you are also manipulating time: scenes lengthen it out and summarizing shortens it. Within scenes, adding sensory detail draws out time in a scene, allowing you to relate to the character in a different way, get inside their skin or allow time for the audience to catch up if there’s been a lot of emotion and/or action. Put some thought into when and why it’s best to detail a scene and when you can have the literary equivalent of a match cut (like the candle smoke into train steam in Schindler’s List) or a jump cut as Steven Pressfield noted from The Hangover: “from the guys clinking glasses on the rooftop—”This is going to be a memorable night.” CUT TO: a floor-level shot of the villa in which our four heroes are staying; dawn light streaks in; a chicken waddles across in the background. Then we see Stu (Ed Helms) face-down on the tiles, passed out, with his eyeglasses lying askew beside him.” Those scenes whether for the screen or in a book allow the viewer or reader to fill in with their imagination and audiences enjoy the opportunity. Give it to them.
And if that isn’t enough to consider, take a look at how language influences the way we see the world.
Jerry Seinfeld offers a strategy to keep writing.
There’s a bonus on procrastination if you click on the photo above. 🙂