Warping Time

“How do you forget to eat dinner?”

That is remarkably easy, actually. I routinely get so busy writing the next scene in my work in progress (WIP) that I forget to keep an eye on the time. This happens so often it has become a running gag among my online friends. At least a few times a week, I get home from work, grab a snack, and sit down to check my email before I dig out my current WIP and my notes. I may pause from time to time to look up some necessary research or answer an email from a friend, but the next time I check the clock, several hours have passed. The time is now closer to bedtime than dinner time, and I still have not gotten around to fixing my supper. I just know there is no conceivable way four hours have passed. There must have been a time warp that advanced the clock when I was engrossed in my writing.

I wish I could say that all my writing experiences were like that, but some scenes are a real challenge to write. The words just do not want to cooperate and my imaginary “friends” refuse to talk to me. Putting a paragraph together is about as easy as tying a string around pudding or nailing cheesecake to the wall.

For many scenes, though, my brain has already planned out what I want to write, usually while I was driving to or from work or while I was sitting at the table with my tutoring kids and waiting for them to finish something. Even if my brain has not already sorted out the details, my notes might have sufficient information that I can just sit down and type like mad.

While the time warp is happening, there is no concept of the passage of time. There is not really an emotional state like joy or happiness, but rather a single-minded, hyper-focused dedication to the task. I am entirely engaged in the story and rapidly translating my ideas into words on the page. This is not the time for editing or revising. First drafts are allowed to be completely horrible, and they usually are. During this time, I am so completely engaged in my task that interruptions for unrelated things are regarded as hostile intrusions, and I get a little grouchy. This time warp cannot be turned on and off like a switch.

There are many factors that contribute to a time warp. First, I need a quiet, interruption-free space. I have, at times, turned off my phone and taped a sign to my door warning family members who might interrupt me that the intrusion would be most unhealthy. Second, I need my current WIP to be at a point where I have the next scene planned out in good detail. Ideally, I have already sorted out the particulars in my head so I am really just transcribing at least some of the information. Third, I need my story outline and notes handy. No matter how well I have something mentally figured out, there are always little things that I will need to look up such as a character’s physical characteristics or a map of the location for the scene. With all that in place, I park myself with my laptop on the couch in my office and start typing. Some time later, after a couple thousand words have been added to my WIP, I notice the clock, and hours have passed.

These sorts of time warps would be helpful in educational settings because students can accomplish more in the allotted time. They are more interested in what is happening in class and finding ways to make their new knowledge applicable to their lives.

Based on my experience, I can arrange situations that will help students find those time warps. First, I need to set up the activity so the students know what to expect ahead of time. That will give their brains time to process the information to some extent even if they are not consciously considering it. Next, the room needs to be as interruption-free as possible. That also means that although I should be available for answering questions, clarifying information, or making suggestions, I need to avoid being a pest. My own interruptions may actually pull the students out of the time warp. Finally, sources of information need to be available. Sometimes in my writing, I have to duck out of the story and go look up a critical fact. The students may likewise need to look something up.

When I get into a time warp, I get more done in those few hours than I do in a whole day without one. If I can help my students find these time warps, they could also get more done in less time.

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