Why I spend precious hours writing

Word count: 741 words

Reading time: About 3 minutes

How did it get so late so soon, asked Dr. Seuss. Whether I’m walking or writing, I often marvel at the amount of time that’s slipped by. But is writing time worth it? Let’s see.

When I was a child, our neighbour, Mr. Beach, regularly strode past my house in his crisp navy blue suit at exactly 7:45 am. When I asked my mother why, she told me that he’d had a heart attack and his doctor had instructed him to walk to work, downtown, every day. That was a 90-minute walk! I was impressed.

Now, as an inveterate walker myself – I log at least 10,000 steps or 4.5 miles every day – I understand that the big deal about walking is not the exercise. It’s about the time it takes. It sucks it up like a vacuum cleaner. I don’t walk as far as Mr. Beach but to hit my 10,000 steps I need to walk for about an hour a day. On days when I work downtown, I invariably arrange to walk at least part of the way, ideally over the Cambie Street Bridge, which is so lovely, it never fails to lift my heart.

Still, the hour hurts. Couldn’t I be doing something more productive? Couldn’t I be, say, reading?

Writing is much like walking. It sucks up almost unbelievable amounts of time. It often feels unproductive. True, you sometimes get a finished product out of it, which feels great, but just as often you have a draft that you don’t like or that your boss doesn’t appreciate. What can you do then?

As I’ve aged, I’ve recognized the truth that time is the most valuable commodity we all have. Like money, it’s distributed unequally. Some people get 95 years (or more!), others have their allotment used up in childhood. Isn’t it strange how none of us ever knows exactly how much time we’re going to get? Furthermore, if we ever lose time, say, by watching bad television or by going to a really boring dinner party, we’ll never be able to get that time back. Pffft, it’s gone. This alone makes time worth a great deal more than money.

As you consider how you want to spend your valuable time, it’s worth asking yourself whether you really want to use any of it up on writing. I do, and here’s why:

I write to understand: I find that I don’t really understand something until I write about it. The discipline of writing is what helps me to muddle through a topic or an idea and discover what I really think. I clarify. I articulate. I make sense.

Here is what essayist Arthur Krystal has to say about the act of writing. “Like most writers, I seem to be smarter in print than in person. In fact, I am smarter when I’m writing. I don’t claim this merely because there is usually no one around to observe the false starts and groan-inducing sentences that make a mockery of my presumed intelligence, but because when the work is going well, I’m expressing opinions that I’ve never uttered in conversation and that otherwise might never occur to me.”

I write to communicate: Of course I can talk. But I can talk to more people in print. This newsletter, for example, goes to more than 7,700 readers around the world every Tuesday. I could never speak to so many people in person! Furthermore, the advantage of writing is that it is more durable than speaking. When we speak, our words may last for a few minutes. When we write, they can exist for years – perhaps even centuries.

I’m not vain enough to claim that I can help make your writing last for centuries. But I know I can help you write faster, better. And whether you write professionally or personally, that can help improve your life. (Email me if you’d like to explore the idea of some coaching.)

I write to have fun: Twenty years ago I’d never have predicted that I’d put the words “write” and “fun” in the same sentence! I was a born editor who loathed writing. Now, however, I find writing to be one of the most enjoyable parts of my day. By switching from outlining to mindmapping, by training myself to stop editing while I wrote, and by learning how to turn off my critical inner voice, I was able to transform something I hated into something I liked. A lot.

Writing takes time. But in return it gives us understanding, a way to reach other people and the chance for joy. Just as I hope never to give up walking, I plan to continue writing for the rest of my life.

You can do the same.

Do you ever resent the time that writing takes? How do deal with that? We can all learn from each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me by commenting below. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)

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