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Apr
8
2014

Every Writer's Fortune -- by Jon Goff

“Do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of.”

Benjamin Franklin
 
 
 
We each  possess a fortune, though most are ignorant of it.  We squander our wealth on things that have little or no value.  Businesses calculate expenditures on different things based on the return on investment (ROI).  A prosperous business considers every purchase and weighs it against the cost to benefit ratio of what it brings to the business.  Calculating the ROI helps them to determine where to spend, and how much they should invest in any given purchase.  Ideally, they want as high a return on their investment as possible, which leads me to your fortune.
 
How will you spend it, what will your return on investment be?  Before we can determine that we must first determine what our budget is. For starters, if you live an ordinary life, and by ordinary I mean you reach the age of 85, you will have in your bank account a total of 496,500 hours, or 29,960,000 minutes.  That's waking hours.  Sleep is important, but those hours are a necessary investment for you to utilize the remaining ones.  
 
That's a fortune.  You may ask, okay, I have millions of minutes, but what can anyone really do in a minute?  Well, the power of a minute is expressed in how much companies will pay for one minute of your time.  Most television commercials run for thirty seconds, half a minute, and companies will pay millions for those thirty seconds.  A minute is extremely valuable, and you have 960 of them per waking day.  
 
If you wrote ten minutes a day, that's 3,650 minutes, or nearly 61 hours a year. Everyone varies in their output. I can get between three and five thousand words in an hour. Granted, it won't be my finest work but if I take my average, let's say 3,500 words an hour, that's 212,916 words or two novels a year!  That's writing ten minutes a day.   As writers, we know that all the time spent writing isn't putting words down on paper.  It's something we try vainly to explain to our friends and family; that we are writing when we're staring out the window.  It is productive time, whether words hit the paper or not.
 
The point is, of course, we're always trying to find time to write, and it's scarce.  I read a book many years ago called Life Planning, by Paul H. Dunn.   It's a book about managing your time, and there's a lot of sage advice, but one of the pieces of advice that has stuck with me over the years was this:  Everyone has the same amount of hours and minutes in their day, so how is it that some people are able to get more done in a day than others?  It's how they invest their time, and that comes in large part in how they see it.  Once time is spent it is lost forever.  We often say we didn't get something done because we “didn't have time.”  The truth is, we did, but we chose to spend it on something else. Rather than saying you didn't have time, say "I didn't take the time."  It changes your perspective.
 
I am an avid gamer, but when I consider that most video games take about 15 to 20 hours to play through, and then compare it against what I could invest that time in, I realize that for me those 20 hours could give me a return on investment of 70,000 words. I had 20 hours to spend, but I didn't take the time to write, instead I took it to play a video game. Those hours are spent. I can never get them back, so the question is, what was my return on investment? Which would be better for my writing business, 20 hours of fun or 70,000 words?
 
I don't want to discourage investing time in play.  We need it, and it keeps us sharp and brings value to life and relationships, but I know that I too often spend my time on activities that have no or almost no return on investment. We have so many distractions in our lives, but really, how many are necessary and how many are just bad investments?
 
Recently, I considered all the time I spent in non-productive pursuits and I was amazed at how much time I was wasting on metaphorical junk food.  Stuff that took that precious commodity and returned nothing for the time I'd invested.  
 
I'm not saying we should stop watching television or killing zombies, and indeed, watching enough television may immunize us against brain munching zombie attacks.  What I am recommending is considering what we're getting out of the time we're spending before we spend it.  Before we sit down to watch an hour of television, can we take ten minutes to work on a chapter?  Is the show really that good?  What does it buy us if we watch it versus what it buys us if we spend the same time on writing?  
 
We have to take time to relax.  We have to play, because as writers, play is as important as work.  We play for a living.  We invent worlds to do with as we want. It's a child's dream come true.  We don't have to grow up!  
 
We have to be smart about it, though.  We can take this fortune in time that we have, and we can spend it on the equivalent of lottery tickets, candy bars, and soda pop, things that eat up our wealth and give nothing but a brief, momentary thrill, and then the time is forever lost; or we can approach investing our time in a more thoughtful, constructive way. If we think about time like money, if we contemplate what we're getting for our investment, we may find that we'd rather be writing than shooting our friends on line, or watching a rerun of a show we've already seen.   
 
Make a goal to spend your time writing 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or any amount of time daily, but do it daily.  If you're not as prolific a writer as others (prolificacy does not equal quality) and an hour doesn't give four or five thousand words, you may want to invest more time.  It's your time, your fortune.  You may spend it however you want, but once spent, it is forever gone.  
 
I've lived about half my life (I'm optimistic about reaching the century mark), which means half my fortune is irretrievably spent. Some on things of quality, but far too much was wasted on indulgences that bought nothing I can carry with me into the future.  If I'd spent just ten minutes a day between now and when I first published The Rune that Binds, I'd have finished the series by now.  As it stands, I'm just finishing the second book.
 
Half my fortune is gone, but I know what I'm going to do with the other half.  What will you do with your fortune, how will you spend it?  It's worth thinking about because whether you use it or not, you're still spending time.  The question is, is what your spending time on a good return on your investment?
 
Posted by Jon Goff 8 Apr 2014 at 00:08
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Responses to this blog

Ml2872 8 Apr 2014 at 01:23  
I agree. No matter what kind of schedule you have, you can always find a little time to write some words down.
Cam 8 Apr 2014 at 04:42  
Thank you for this excellent reminder.
Jcdrake 8 Apr 2014 at 09:23  
Great blog. Really puts things in perspective.
Mysticat 12 Apr 2014 at 20:37  
Great post! I think we also need to avoid comparing ourselves to others. I seem to be a book a year kinda gal. Other authors can crank out two or three or more. We should definitely do our best to spend our writing time wisely but not best ourselves up if it's not like someone else's.
Mysticat 12 Apr 2014 at 20:39  
that's BEAT ourselves up. Darn stupidphone.
Josiesmile 14 Apr 2014 at 06:29  
Thanks, I think this blog is exactly what I needed right now.

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