There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when I could say that I never wasted time. I couldn't because I simply had so much to do. I worked full time, produced a semiannual literary journal with a colleague and later an anthology of crime fiction with two other colleagues, ran a monthly writers' group, critiqued friends' mss, and oversaw my mother's health care during a critical time. And I wrote.
My focus was on crime fiction, novels in two series with a few short stories based on the main character in one, Anita Ray. I wrote both stories and novels during the brief interlude between arriving home from work and dinner, after taking snatches of time during lunch or while walking to a meeting or waiting on hold to think through what I wanted to write in the next scene or passage when I got home. When I could I attended writers' conferences and participated in a few volunteer projects. And then I retired.
I have long felt that writers' block is an indulgence. I may not feel like writing, but once I sit down and begin, the words come. No matter how bad the writing might seem at the moment I know I can always return later and rework it. The point for me is to keep going. Once I retired I didn't feel the same pressure, but I also didn't stop writing. While working I had to use every minute I could find but now I could begin earlier in the day, whenever I wanted, and take more time working through what I was trying to say. I might still sit down unready to write, as it were, but I still wrote no matter what. I wasn't at my desk to play solitaire. Nothing changed in retirement, just my attitude to time now that I had more of it. I let myself daydream more, stare out the window more, talk to the dog more.
Did having more time make a difference? Did I write more? Did I write better? Did I think more deeply? The only question I'm sure about is the latitude retirement gave me to try new things--new characters, new settings, new problems. And then last year I began thinking differently about how to construct a story, and that produced a very different novel from my usual fare.
Last summer I set aside the reliable and much enjoyed cozy/traditional format and pulled up one character and got her into trouble in the first line and kept her there. The story is obviously suspense and not a cozy. I learned a lot about a different style of writing but in the end I also learned about me. I see the world in a certain way, and even in a suspense novel with danger in every room, threats at every corner, the main character is going to have a certain world view and certain beliefs that might be shaken but won't be destroyed.
Writing suspense meant going deeper into certain characters but it also meant uncovering the roots of principles, the drive leading to the goals that can be misdirected, and inchoate beliefs that can underlie a life and be twisted before being recovered in a truer form. I spent a lot more time thinking about these issues before I began writing--weeks, even months.
Being willing to take the time to explore these discoveries in fiction might not have happened in earlier years when writing another cozy seemed the obvious choice, the easier path. I might have ended up wasting a lot of time--months if not years--in producing another series that was okay but not much more. But in the end I finished with a novel that is different from my usual work and a level above it. And now comes the test. My agent has it and now I wait. Once again, the issue is time. Waiting time.
And also thinking time, thinking about the next character who will be in trouble in the first line and stay there until a few paragraphs from the end. Time is set only as we choose to set it.