Okay, not literally.
The interval between seconds didn’t actually lengthen. Time didn’t tick by slower than usual. People around me didn’t speak with a drawl or move in slow motion. There were no redshifts or time dilation effects that I noticed. It wasn’t as if I was launched into space at near light speed and returned to Earth to find my husband an old man, hunched over, grasping a walking cane, and my boys with gray hair and grandchildren. Nothing like that. But I felt like I had more time. My perception of time shifted to a lower gear during the last two weeks of December.
I stopped writing for two weeks.
I took a break from writing during the last two weeks of December 2021. Maybe I shouldn’t have. I’ve read that Stephen King and T.C. Boyle write every single day, including Christmas. But I bet their wives were the ones who stuck the turkey in the oven on Thanksgiving or made pancakes for the kids on Christmas morning. Priorities.
Time speeds up when I’m immersed in my writing. After my husband leaves for work and my son leaves for school, I begin my day with breakfast and a coffee, then start writing at about 9 a.m. Within a half hour I’m in “the zone,” as it’s called, that mental state in which I’m immersed in my work-in-progress (WIP). I’ll take a break to use the bathroom and discover it’s 10:30 a.m. I’ll return to my writing, then look up and it’s half past eleven. Another quick break—I don’t mean to overshare, but coffee goes right through me—and it’s half past noon. If my concentration hasn’t faltered by this point, I resume writing until my stomach tells me to eat something, and I look up to see it’s ten minutes past one. At this point my ability to focus is shot and it’s time for lunch and the rest of my responsibilities—housework, laundry, groceries, all that menial household stuff no one respects but is required as a civilized human being.
That phenomenon where I’m completely immersed in my writing is called “flow.” A quick internet search tells me that the concept of “flow” comes from the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.
This “flow” is so pronounced for me that time feels like it’s going by faster than usual. It’s like I’m sacrificing a good chunk of my life to it, like a false idol. I had noticed this before, but became keenly aware of it during the Covid lockdowns of 2020 when people I knew complained about how their year dragged on. It zipped by for me. It bothered me enough that I decided to take time off from writing to stop “the flow” from its strange time-warping magic.
My husband took two weeks off. My 16-year-old was out of school for winter break. My older son, now in the Marines, was home most of that time. We didn’t want to risk infecting our elderly parents with Covid or get stranded at the airport with our flights cancelled. We stayed home, went nowhere, and enjoyed every minute of it.
I knew I’d have trouble staying focused with everyone at home. The TV blared from the living room every morning. My son came into my office to use the computer. My sacred “alone time” between the hours of 9 and noon was being shared with three other people. Instead of getting annoyed, I took a writing break.
I took my time reading the morning news on my iPad as I ate breakfast and sipped coffee. I watched the two previous Spider-Man movies featuring Tom Holland that I missed the first time. I went to see Spider-Man: No Way Home in the theater with my husband and kids. While it rained outside, I curled up on the sofa and streamed The Avengers movies to re-watch all the Spider-Man scenes (can you tell I loved Spider-Man? And the Marvel Universe storylines are starting to get seriously complicated).
(I just re-read that last paragraph and–sheesh–it sounds like I blew off my family and hung out by myself most of the time. What can I say? Three of us are introverts. My boys are teenagers and are happy doing their own thing.)
Taking a two-week break from writing may not be a good thing, but I did it anyway, not just to slow down time, but step away from my writing so I could see my WIP with fresh eyes when I got back to it in January.
I want to publish a novel and get paid for it someday. That means I have to write. And to write well, I need to get back into the zone, or flow, whatever that weird time warp is called when I’m writing and my life speeds by, hurtling me into old age.
I hope all this lost time is worth it.
(Feature image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.)