Time! Time!

- by Elaine Isaak

There’s this great scene in J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit where Bilbo is exchanging riddles with Gollum.  It’s Gollum’s turn, and once again, he has delivered a long, rich, poetic monologue–and Bilbo is stumped.  Gollum comes to eat him, as is their bargain, and Bilbo starts asking for more time.  He is so frightened that all he can do is bleat the single word, “Time! Time!” 

And that, of course, was the answer.

Bilbo thought he was running short on time.  In fact, that pressure lead to his just-in-time delivery of the right answer.  Time is slippery like that.  We think we need more of it.  We tend to waste a lot of it.  And, often, we are able to pull off the required miracle in just a hair under the time allotted.One of the difficulties the working writer faces is the pressure of deadlines and how to organize her time to get things done.  I was talking to a friend today about housework.  She observed that, even though her kids are all now in school, leaving her, theoretically, with plenty of time to clean the house, it didn’t happen.  Thinking she all all the time in the world, she never settled on the right moment to do the job.  On the other hand, pull out a surprise visit from the in-laws this weekend, and the place would be sparkling.

We struggle against deadlines, particularly if they are close at hand.  We spend a lot of the most valuable thing we have, time itself, fretting about meeting or not meeting deadlines. We bemoan them and try to get them pushed back, and generally act as if the deadline is the enemy.   In fact, it is the work we need to conquer, and the deadline is often the vital stimulus to attack the job at hand. 

Many writers between contracts will seek out deadlines.  They may call them “challenges” to produce a certain number of words in a certain time period.  They may participate in groups that either require work to be submitted for critique or simply provide accountability for self-imposed deadlines.  They may volunteer to write deadline-based articles or blog entries.  They may find that, when the deadline looms, the inspiration mysteriously arrives.  They find themselves bleating out just the right word and just the right moment, and live to write another day.

One comments

  1. A self-imposed deadline is often very useful. Most of us can remember putting off that high-school report until the last minute, then pulling it off. Often, if we’d done any sort of decent research, we’d get a decent grade.

    My older brother used to do his research and then dictate it to our mom who could type (manual typewriter) a lot faster than either of us could.

    Try this while writing your first draft:
    – Set a timer (no noise, please)
    – Imagine part of the scene you’re going to write, usually about 2/3 of a finished page.
    – Start the timer
    – Write as fast as you can. No editing, let it rip.
    – If you run into something that needs a bit of research, dump in a placeholder like ~~ or ** and do it later.
    – When the timer ends, you’re done.
    – Edits and reviews come in a different pass.

    Yes, you’ll probably have plenty of typos, but more often you’ll find the phrasing, pacing and other stuff is right on the money.