Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The curse of having too much time

My new writing haunt - the Rose Room at the NYPL. I'm on Instagram @nathanbransford
When I was laid off at my previous job a few months back I was suddenly confronted with a problem I hadn't experienced since my college years: I had all the time in the world.

And yes! I chose the words "confronted" and "problem" intentionally! I had no idea it was going to be as much of a challenge to write when I had more time than less time.

When I was laid off I had YUGE plans with what I was going to do with my free time. I was going to write! I was going to travel! I was going to go to museums! I was going to blog! I was going to edit people's novels! I was going to job hunt! I was going to be one of those people sitting in a cafe at 2pm on a Tuesday making everyone with a day job wonder "Who has time to sit in a cafe at 2pm on a Tuesday?" I WAS GOING TO BE THAT GUY.

And I did do all of those things! Well. Except the writing part...

Here's the thing I didn't appreciate about being really busy with a day job: you have structure. You have things you must do because of such practical realities like "paying your rent" and "paying adequate attention to people who love you."

Want to write while you have a full time job? Chances are you have two or three choices when you can possibly write. So you better do it then. And when you have time? Better get crackin'.

There's something about being busy that made me commit to writing in the few openings in my schedule whether I wanted to or not. For me, it was the weekends or bust.

When you have all the time in the world? You have endless choice, it's easy to put off writing ("I have time! I can do it later!"), and you have to go out of your way to create structure.

The good news is that I have begun to turn the corner, and have started organizing my day around job hunting, then writing, then leaving some time for other pursuits. I forced myself to create some structure so I wouldn't neglect the writing.

And in the meantime, I'll be that guy making the tourists wonder, "What New Yorker has time to sit in the Rose Room at 2pm on a Tuesday?"

Have you struggled to create structure when you suddenly have time? How did you do it?


David said...

This certainly resonates with me. I've been semi-retired for a few years, and when I switched from full-time work, I was sure I'd write ever so much more than I had while working. The opposite seems to have happened. I think I enjoy writing more now than I did while working, but nonetheless I turned out more books while working full time and commuting.

To be fair, I do spend a certain amount of time now correcting people who are wrong on the Internet and changing the world via my brilliant Facebook posts.

Jeremy said...

Don't have time, so not a problem. Right now, it's weekends or bust, and that has been working well!

Madara said...

Funny thing is I was laid off this summer.I spent a lot of time doing busy work around the house. I fixed a bunch of stuff, cleaned the garage fixed the deck, but didn't write much. The stress and depression of losing my job after 24 years left me spinning. I picked up a little bit of work in my brother's cabinet shop and applied for any job I might be qualified for (and some I wasn't.)

I had so much time on my hands, I literally didn't know what to do. Should I buckle down and write that novel? Should I finish that screenplay? Should I film it? Should I become a blogger or start a YouTube channel? Start a business? I didn't know. So I froze. I had no direction in my life.

This week was different. I had several resume requests and a few interviews. I received three job offers this week. I start my new job tomorrow. A weight has been lifted from my shoulders and I feel like I can write again.

Gail M Baugniet - Author said...

This week is a good example of lacking structure for me. Normally, I have projects waiting in line while I run to meetings or group discussions. Everything gets worked in and completed. But this week, with no meetings, phone calls to return, or discussions to join, I looked forward to completing a couple of projects. Nope. No structure and no calendar to consult, everything falls by the wayside.

Sometimes, it is good to lay back and do nothing. But when it begins to stretch into five days, ug! Okay, now that I've got that off my chest, maybe I can still accomplish what needs doing on Thursday and Friday!


JOHN T. SHEA said...

Laid off? Job hunting? Yikes! I've always thought of you as a kind of perpetual motion machine, multi-tasking the work of two or three people. But I'm sure your job hunt will not last long, and the best of luck with it. Meanwhile I look forward to the writing the Rose Room will inspire. Karl Marx changed the world sitting in the great round reading room of the British Museum. Who knows what your sojourns in the Rose Room may produce?

rebeccam said...

You could volunteer at an office of a social services agency, refugee resettlement program, whatever cause you feel strongly about. That would give your day structure to work around.

Carol said...

The other trick is to figure out what time of day you write best (for me it's mornings) and structure your day around that. Works for me. Good luck with the job hunt (or even better, freelancing).

Cinthia Ritchie said...

Oh, I know the feeling! Been there, done that, and I also found myself doing everything but writing. Luckily I buckled down after a few weeks. (I had a college instruction who said that if you want to find time to write, work a second job, lol) Good luck on the job hunt, and writing. P.S. If you lived in Alaska, you wouldn't be sitting in a coffeeshop at 2 p.m., you'd be sitting on top of a mountain. Of course, it's more difficult to write while on top of a mountain, which is why I do very little writing in the summers.

Beryl Hall Bray said...

I agree with rebeccam, it worked and works for me. My former life included: 30+ years of owning 1 to 3 businesses at one time, along with 36 years of a good marriage, being a parent, and switching my love of writing to enhancing our business potential-- all of which changed within 30 days leaving me a widow, on a Social Security income from my entrepreneur's life (very low $), diagnoses of "terminal illness," no home, no car... I'll stop there. However, I had 31 years of my life centered on my faith and related activities; and, that gave me a structure to work around. It grounded me and gives me quite the basement of experience to draw on as I write. If the most worthwhile thing within your being is something that can't be taken'll always have the beginning of structure. You have it; I read it in your blog; I'm sure there's even more. Then when your job hunting pays off, it will be icing on your cake--but, never the cake itself. ;-D

Terin Miller said...

Nathan: your timing on this post is impecable.

I left, hopefully (my wife says) temporarily, a 37-year career, the last nearly quarter century with the same company, in mid-December.

I also just finished last month the rough draft of a new novel I've been working on for three-and-a-half years.

Inbetween, right after leaving my long-time company, technically, "retiring" from it, have been the holidays, family crises, suggestions I spend more time with those I love, job searching (like you) and emails, emails, emails, interspersed with "well, since you're home" and weather and my son being off from high school for the numerous breaks, including snow days, etc.

Here it is, nearing the middle of February, and I haven't "had time" to go through the rough draft, shining and editing and polishing up to shop to agents, or write, let alone, submit, short stories to paying magazines. I have gotten riled up by the increasingly frustrating political situation, written a few blog posts, and try and stop myself from spending too much once-dedicated-to-writing-time or once required attention at work on Social Media.

In fact, I often wondered, while working, and writing, and paying attention at home, "who has time" to spend so much time, energy, and writing "capital" on Social Media? And, it turned out, my friends. Who are writers. Or actors. Or musicians. Artists.

I actually am beginning to wonder if in the desire to be entertained, to amuse ourselves, or to be instantly accessible to friends, family, relatives, even strangers, via texting, phoning, videos, etc, an entire generation of would-be artists is being lost because people for the large part seem to spend far less time in their heads, being quiet, "thinking." Or creating.

How did I manage to finish my latest novel while working until the past few months? I would write on the train commuting to my job in Midtown Manhattan, sometimes both ways, by hand in a notebook with a fountain pen. Which is how I managed to finish the book, finally, in a week when nobody was in the house, wanting my attention or time, and I could devote myself in my little study ("writing room") to writing after going through emails, applying for jobs, and even applying at some MFA programs--most of which required applications for the coming Fall semester be completed and turned in by January!

A friend, a photographer, came to visit for the weekend about a weekend or so ago. Since then, I've been struggling to revive my "structure."

And it keeps getting interrupted with every Executive Order since Jan 20!

I may wind up joining you someday, or week, soon, in the Rose Room.

Don't worry. If I see you there, I'll keep to myself, maybe raise an eyebrow in your direction, maybe join you for a coffee (or other beverage) at 2 p.m. at some cafe/bar.
I know Midtown really well, having worked there close to a decade...:-).

I wish you luck, and hope you do the same for me!
And thanks again for your perfectly timed post.


Bill Swan said...

A similar problem: retiring early to do the writing dream. I had a colleague who taught college English. Each year he would give out a round piece of cardboard to each student. Tell me what it is, he asked. Various answers. All wrong. "It's a Toit," he said. Puzzled faces. "And what shape is it?" he asked. Well, that they could answer. "It's round, sir."

So he summed it up. "Right. It is a round Toit. Many of you are going to attempt to do assignments when you get a around to it. So now you have a round toit. Don't lose it. it should last you all year."

So with writing. Nathan is right: structure. It may not look like structure -- most stuff that writers do doesn't look like much at all. Sitting in a coffee shop at 2 p.m. may look glamorous, or weird, but if that is how you structure a day to get writing done -- seat of the pants, folks -- then do it.

It's like going to the gym. Gotta be scheduled.

Strange thing, though. I'm in my writing schedule, doodling on line and writing this comment (which was NOT in my schedule!)

Back to deadline stuff,


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