February 10, 2015

If I Only Had the Time: The Phrase That Makes Me Cringe

A few well-meaning people, when I told them I was writing a novel, replied in what is decidedly one of my least favorite ways: “I would love to write a novel too, if only I had the time.”

This response raises my hackles because it implies that whatever that person does with their life is much more important than what I do with mine. Listen, we’re all busy, but busy doesn’t mean important. You can pack your waking hours from dawn ‘til dusk pushing paper, driving here and there, completing errands, doing chores, but at the end of the day what have you accomplished? Have you made progress towards any meaningful projects or goals? Maybe not, but I have, and it’s not because I have a bunch more time on my hands. It’s because I have a short list of priorities and I make sure I’m mindful of them every day.

Writing is on my short list. It might not be on yours, and that’s fine, but I guarantee you that you do have a list.

What’s important in your life? For most people work and family top their priorities, and those are very important pursuits. What happens when you aren’t earning cash or playing catch with Johnny though? What do you choose to do with your time? I tackle my other concerns: writing, working out, and reading. Some weeks these things receive less time than others, but I always try and carve out a few hours here and there.

Depending on your schedule you might be able to spare more or less time on your chosen pursuits, but most people can find at least an hour. Get up early, stay up late, take your lunch break (shocker) and devote it to one of your priorities. Ask for help from spouses, family, children, neighbors. Let them know what you are trying to do and get their support. Make the time and then guard it fiercely. And if it’s half a day on the weekend or half an hour stolen in the wee hours of the night you can make significant progress as days become weeks and weeks become months.

It might sound a bit simplistic, but in truth it isn’t that complicated to add real progress toward meaningful goals into your routine. You might not have time to write a book, but I do because I worked late and had generous family members willing to donate their time to the babysitting cause. Commit to your short list and cling to that hard won time with tenacity.

Then do the work.

If you want to write a novel you need to actually, you know, write. Not exactly an earthshattering revelation I realize, but in many ways it’s much easier said than done. You can dream of becoming a novelist, but the only way to make it happen is to turn those dreams into action. Write, write, write, and write some more.

Do the work.

Just don’t tell me you don’t have the time. You might not have the inclination, the motivation, the determination, the need, or desire, but if you do than you can find the time.


Inspiration for this post came from Chris Gulliebeau’s excellent book The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World (Perigee Book.)

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