I like to fool myself that I’ve got a fairly decent sense time. This, of course, is utter hogwash.
Humans live in relative time. We simply do not know how time passes, we can’t feel it, can’t predict it. And it’s doing pretty weird things to our sense of self, or rather our sense of accomplishment.
For example, I’ve been writing every day. For the past month, every single day. But some days, even though I’ve marked down that I’ve written, even though the writing has felt quite long and hard, I haven’t accomplished much.
Other days, even though I feel that I’ve just written a little bit and I would have liked to write more, I’ve written thousands of words.
Both of these feelings are false.
Fortunately, I’m pretty good at noting when I start and stop my writing sprints. And amazingly on the days when the writing has felt like it’s taken forever but I haven’t accomplished much, I haven’t spent much time writing.
See, my writing speed is fairly constant around 1500 usable words per hour. So it’s the total amount of time I spend writing that determines my total output. It’s simple math. However, when I consult my feelings, it’s anything but simple.
On days when I produce less, I feel that I’ve spent more time and more effort on my writing, and on days that I produce more, I generally feel that I’ve spent less time and less energy to produce more.
What’s going on?
What’s going on, is that my flow, my enthusiasm, and my natural fear of encountering difficulties collaborate to make my sense of time as accurate as that of a five-year-old waiting for Santa Claus.
But the more sprint’s I do, the less that feeling persists. Basically, the more I write, the more I feel like writing, and the less time and effort I feel that I’m spending.
Note the key word “feel” here. It’s got nothing to do with actual, observable, measurable time. Everything is about feeling. That’s why time gets shorter the more I write.
It’s a like warming up before a workout. You warm up, and warm up, and it’s hard. You’re still stiff, maybe hurting a bit from the last workout, and things aren’t going so great. But then you move along into the exercise itself. And after about 10, or 15, or 20, or however many, minutes, you hit your stride.
You’re feeling good about it. You’re no longer thinking about how heavy those weights are or how long you’ve been running or biking or swimming. You’re just doing your thing, in the zone.
Writing is exactly like that. Getting into the zone takes time and that time feels like a long, hard slog with a heavy backpack. In absolute terms it can be minutes, maybe quarter of an hour at most, before things get into flow. But those beginning moments, the warm up to the writing feel long. Especially before you begin, when they feel infinite.
That little warm up hump is enough to put a lot of people off, stop them from writing entirely. I know that I’m one.
My methods to break through this brain-hurdle is to count my writing as starting. If I just sit down and start, I get to count that day as having written.
This means that no moment, even if it’s only three minutes of cycling through old text, is wasted. I get to chalk it up as writing.
It gets me past the hard relative time and into the easy relative time. Not always, but often enough. Not reliably, but often enough that I can reach that relative time that just flows, effortlessly and swiftly, like a brook in spring where the words tumble, waiting to be caught.
It doesn’t always work. I’ve got days where the beginning time really feels infinite, and I can’t get past it. I’ve got days when I’m too stressed out, too tired, to worn and depressed and just plain fed up to write.
But the more I write, and the more used I get to the habit of starting, the quicker I get into fast time.
And that’s where I want to be.