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Image by ThePixelman  

The one commodity that we all share in equal amounts is time: 1,440 minutes — 86,400 seconds — per day. 

People making things — entrepreneurs, artists, writers, musicians, comedians, sculptors, furniture crafters, potters, knitters, gardeners, video-game designers, YouTube creators, podcasters — must utilize these minutes more effectively, because unless you have a patron or a trust fund, you’ll probably need to carve out time among life’s many other demands in order to pursue your creative passions. At least for a while.

Most creative people are holding down another job (or two or three) while waiting for their passions to pay off. The tragedy is that creative people (and people who dream of being creative) often use their time less effectively than most, and more often than not, they spend their lives waiting for the right moment instead of making the time.

The trick is to utilize your time effectively. To value every minute of the day equally, regardless of how many other minutes are attached to it. Once you have chosen to value every minute, you can begin to create systems by which those precious minutes can be used.

Waiting for the “Ideal" Time?

I’ve written eleven books and published nine over the past dozen years because I don’t wait for the right moment to write. I don’t waste time on preciousness, pretentiousness, and perfection.

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Yes, it’s true that in the summers, when I’m not teaching, I have much more time to dedicate to writing, but I don’t wait for July and August to get to work. I write all year long. I write in the early-morning hours before my kids tumble down the stairs. I write at lunchtime if I don’t have any papers to correct or lessons to plan.

I’m actually writing this very sentence on a Friday during my lunch break. I write while waiting for the water to boil for spaghetti. I write while the mechanic changes my oil at Jiffy Lube. I write in the first few minutes of a meeting that has failed to start on time.

Are these ideal times to write? Of course not. But unless you’re blessed with a patron who is willing to support your every earthly desire, you need to make the time to write. Even if blessed with a patron, I still might be writing in these cracks of my life. I’m filled with stories and the desire to share as many of them with the world as possible. Why restrict my creative flow to midmornings? Minutes matter. Every single one of them matters.

The problem is that so many of us discount the value of minutes and overestimate the value of an hour or a day or a weekend. We dither away our minutes as if they were useless, assuming that creativity can only happen in increments of an hour or a day or more. What a bunch of hooey.

I want you to stop thinking about the length of a day in terms of hours and start thinking in terms of minutes. Minutes matter.

Sitting on Your “But”

I’m sitting in a McDonald’s restaurant, speaking to a woman who wants to become a novelist. She asked me for a few minutes of my time to pick my brain, and I agreed. She had proposed a local coffee shop, but I don’t drink coffee. I’ve never even tasted the stuff. So I told her to meet me at the McDonald’s on the Turnpike. She sounded a little confused by my choice of location but agreed.

We’re sitting on stools at the back of the restaurant. She’s asking me about literary agents and editors. Book contracts and international sales. Film rights and royalties. I listen carefully and answer her questions, waiting for the right moment to ask my own — a question far more important than any question she has asked me so far.

Finally, I see my opening. “So,” I say, “how’s the book coming?”

“Oh,” she says, looking a little startled. “I haven’t really started it yet.”

I was afraid of this answer. I saw it coming from a country mile away. “Really?” I say, feigning surprise. “Why not?”

She tells me that the writing process is complicated for her. She finds that she can only write in two-to-three-hour increments at a time, and she really needs to be in the right space to work. A quiet coffee shop or a park bench. Midmorning. Cappuccino at the ready. She hopes to dedicate a year of her life to writing the book, but she wants to understand the publishing world first before beginning.

I nod. I bite my tongue.

“So what’s your writing process like?” she asks me.

I have lots of answers to this question. I’d like to remind her that American soldiers in gas masks were squatting in rain-soaked trenches during World War I, scribbling words on pages as bullets and bombs filled the sky overhead. Your need for a coffee shop, a cappuccino heated perfectly to 154 degrees, and smooth jazz is a joke.

But I don’t say this.

I’d like to tell her that she doesn’t actually want to write. She wants to “have written.” She’s fond of what she imagines the writing life to be — midmorning visits to the coffee shop to splash a few hundred words on the page before enjoying a late lunch with friends — but she’s not prepared to do the actual work required to produce something worthy of people’s time and money, nor is she passionate enough to engage in the craft in those less-than-ideal moments.

Writers can’t help but write, I want to tell her. They don’t wait to write. They are compelled to write.

But I don’t say this, either. Instead, I say, “You were seven minutes late arriving today.”

She opens her mouth to apologize, but I stop her.

“No, it’s fine. You’ve never been here before. That’s not my point.”

“Then what’s your point?” she asks.

“How did I spend those seven minutes?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” she says. “How?”

“I wrote nine good sentences.” I rotate the laptop on the table toward her and point at the new paragraph I’ve just written. “I also revised the paragraph above it,” I say, pointing to the words directly above the new paragraph. “The average novel is somewhere between five thousand and ten thousand sentences. Every sentence that I write gets me closer to the end. Today I got nine sentences closer.”

Realization washes over her face. She understands what I’m saying. It’s replaced just as quickly by stubbornness. “That probably works if you’re in the middle of a book,” she says. “But I haven’t even started yet.”

“Do you think that I started this novel on a sunny Wednesday morning in a coffee shop?” I ask. “Because I’m sure I didn’t.”

I explain that my best time of day for writing is also midmorning, and that I, too, like to work in blocks of two or three hours at a time. I also have my favorite places to write. It’s not a coffee shop, since I don’t drink coffee and can’t stand the hushed whispers of coffee-shop conversations, but I definitely have preferred places to work, including the joyous cacophony of a busy fast-food restaurant. Unfortunately, I’m often teaching fifth graders during my ideal writing time, so I started this book, and every one before it, whenever and wherever I could. As soon as the first minute for writing was available to me.

I tell her about how I started my second novel, Unexpectedly, Milo, on a Sunday morning years ago. I was sitting at my dining-room table, writing the last chapter of my first book, Something Missing. I wrote the final sentence of the final chapter, sighed, then called my wife on the phone to tell her the good news. “I finished it,” I told her. “I actually wrote a book.”

She congratulated me. Told me that she’d be home in a couple of hours. “We’ll celebrate with lunch and ice cream.”

I couldn’t believe it. I had finished my novel. I pumped my fist with joy. Blasted Springsteen’s “No Surrender.” Danced around my apartment in a T-shirt and boxer shorts.

The Plan 

My plan was to take a couple of months off from the grind of writing before starting my next book. Recharge my batteries. Rest my brain cells. Find out how to get the book published. I sat in that dining-room chair, staring at the final page of my first book, watching the cursor blink after the final period.

I still couldn’t believe it. I had written a book. A good one, too, I thought. I looked at the clock. Still more than an hour before Elysha would arrive home.

“What the hell?” I said aloud. I moved the mouse to the top left side of the screen and clicked File then New document. At the top of the page, I wrote “Chapter 1” and began.

The start of my next novel. 

Copyright 2022, Matthew Dicks. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, New World Library.

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BOOK: Someday Is Today

Someday Is Today: 22 Simple, Actionable Ways to Propel Your Creative Life
by Matthew Dicks

book cover of Someday Is Today by Matthew DicksAre you good at dreaming about what you’re going to accomplish “someday” but not good at finding the time and getting started? How will you actually make that decision and do it? The answer is this book, which offers proven, practical, and simple ways to turn random minutes throughout your days into pockets of productivity, and dreams into accomplishments.

In addition to presenting his own winning strategies for getting from dreaming to doing, Matthew Dicks offers insights from a wide range of creative people — writers, editors, performers, artists, and even magicians — on how to augment inspiration with motivation. Each actionable step is accompanied by amusing and inspiring personal and professional anecdotes and a clear plan of action. Someday Is Today will give you every tool to get started and finish that _______________ [fill in the blank].

For more info and/or to order this book, click here. Also available as an Audiobook and as a Kindle edition.

About the Author

photo of Matthew Dicks, author of Someday is TodayMatthew Dicks, a bestselling novelist, nationally recognized storyteller, and award-winning elementary schoolteacher, teaches storytelling and communications at universities, corporate workplaces, and community organizations. He has won multiple Moth GrandSLAM story competitions and, together with his wife, created the organization Speak Up to help others share their stories. 

Visit him online at MatthewDicks.com.

More books by this Author.