The other day I was looking at the notes I have in a handful of notebooks or scattered in various files on disk on the sundry ideas, half-baked or otherwise, I’ve had over the last few years, and I was trying to figure out what has kept me from actually getting the darned things finished. Or, at least, what has kept me from getting a slight majority of those projects in some form closely resembling ready to be shown to the masses. Many years ago, I managed to finish a couple of novels (well, novellas or even novelettes, to be more precise), quite a few short stories, and then in college yet another novel manuscript (which for some reason between moving out of the parents’ house and into my own place managed to find its way into the garbage), all while attending school and working full-time (and one hair-brained year being involved in theatre full-time as well). My nemeses then were too few hours in the day and my needing sleep at least some time.
But lately (as in, the last ten years or so) my nemeses have been those things that keep me from the keyboard. Not the important ones such as voice-overs (which are fairly recent), shuttling the kids around, spending quality time with my wife, keeping the house and clothes (moderately) clean, cooking dinner, and so on. No, I’m talking about time wasters, those activities that really have little to no payoff, whether it be mental, physical, emotional, or otherwise.
When I drop the kids off at school in the morning, I have a couple of hours before the youngest needs to be picked up. My schedule should consist of exercising for half an hour or at the very least taking a quick walk for that amount of time, followed by sitting at the keyboard and writing for an hour. Lately, though, the routine has been walk, sit at the computer, check e-mail, then remember something I need to check on the ‘net, and that, of course, triggers something else I need to follow up on, or I stumble across something in my “research” which I find extraordinarily funny for some oddball reason like this (I’ll admit the latter I came across from one of my connections in Facebook, another major time sink as Nathan over at Speaking Out calls them but one I, thankfully, don’t partake of too often), and before I know it my entire writing time for that morning has been sucked from me by the time wasting vampire.
I’m a stay-at-home dad, which means I’m at home all day long, every day. I go nuts sitting around here. I clean the house for awhile, always thinking I should be writing. Of course, when I’m writing, I feel guilty about not cleaning the house. After I pick up my kids, I hang around with them for awhile, but never do I think I’ve spent enough time with them (they’re only this age once, I know). I cook dinner or, if it’s a day where they have extra-curricular activities, we typically order food delivered or grab something on the way back home. All the while I’m thinking I really should be writing and that somehow, someway, I’m just wasting time not writing.
After the kids are tucked in bed, I sit down and–you guessed it–watch TV. That is likely the biggest time waster. Once upon a time, I hardly ever sat in front of the screen. Back when I was in grad school, about the only things I watched regularly were Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, and X-files (well, not the last two seasons of the latter; I lost interest in the main characters). It may have helped that at the time I had a full-time 40-and-more-hours-a-week job in addition to grad classes. Also of benefit was the fact I had no cable TV. I had local stations and a VCR. I religiously taped those shows and watched them later. Well, B5 was almost always watched live by me and the regular game group (until it was moved to TNT for the fifth season–I had to break down and pick up cable then to continue watching my favorite show of that time). We’d take a dinner break then to watch the latest drama aboard that floating Casa Blanca in space. But, much as I loved that show, it may have been what led to my biggest time waster . . . watching too much TV. Now, I can DVR the shows I’m addicted to and watch them later, which would have been wonderful when I was younger (less than 39 and holding) and accustomed to staying up late then getting up early the next morning to go to work and/or school: write for a couple of hours after eating dinner when I got home, do homework for another hour or so, then watch TV for a couple more, then read for half an hour and finally go to bed sometime around 1 a.m. Of the last ten years or so, I stay up later than 11 p.m. and I’m a zombie the next day. I might not eat your brains, but I’ll definitely grouse all day long.
On nights my wife works, I’m often sitting in front of the TV again, but this time I’m slogging through a video game. I was one of those hooked into DOOM when first released for the 386 and I’ve spent countless hours wading through waves of badguys on screen, dying, respawning, pushing farther in the game before dying yet again. I suck at video games, I’ll be the first to admit, but I’ve continued with them. The systems have changed, the games have different names these days, but I still find myself drawn to them. Not nearly so much as years ago, but enough that I can easily spend a handful of hours each week wandering through someone else’s video world.
And on days that my wife is off work, I could stay at home, nose to the grindstone, hammering away at the keyboard and trying to get just that little bit farther in the current novel, short story, game design, or whathaveyou, but after hanging out by myself for most of the week, I hop in the car and get out of Dodge for a handful of hours. Whenever I’m out of the house, I always have my notebook with me to jot things down as they come to mind, but quite often I find an idea pop into my head while I’m behind the wheel. I’d recently been given the suggestion to purchase a digital voice recorder to take notes at those times: hands-free, it could be clipped to the dash and most of the newer models have voice-activation. Uh-oh. How often would one be triggered by the radio? I have that on nearly all the time I’m behind the wheel as background noise. Well, maybe scratch that notion and stick with trying to remember whatever idea came to mind while I was navigating the potholes that make up the streets of my hometown until I can stop long enough to jot it down in my trusty notebook. Nuts! The thing slipped to the floor when I zigged over that last pothole instead of zagging. Have to wait until I get to wherever I’m going and finally put the vehicle in park . . . aaaand whatever I had in mind slipped away like a wet glass of cold brew on a warm day.
So does getting out of the house and driving around count as a time waster? I’ll figure it out later. Right now, I need to go watch White Collar.