Why you’re running out of time.

Over the past few months, I get questions from friends on how do I manage my time with the number of interests I hold and the amount of social groups I am affiliated with. Before I proceed any further, let me break down on what my priorities are — and you will notice how they are all related to each other in creativity and productivity.

Writing — Aside from my full-time job as a writer, I am working on my own novel project. Writing takes up most of my time and one of the few good things that came out of Covid-19 was the ability for me to work any time I wanted to. As long as I reached my daily quota ranging from 5 – 6 articles, that much is needed to get a day’s work done. At least 30 minutes is set aside for my personal project daily which includes (but not limited to) drafting, writing manuscripts, going through character developments, and sketching plot frameworks.

Reading — There’s a saying by Annie Proulx that goes “Reading is the finest teacher of how to write”, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s actually mandatory (though it doesn’t feel that way) for me to read a book or article every day. Other than improving my writing subconsciously, reading has given me an avenue to constantly question my thought process, my worldview, and my place in the world. Sparing time to read books on a particular subject aids in my thinking and ability to reason.

Gaming — Just as much as I write and read, gaming has been one of my favourite forms of escapism. I don’t game as often now to curb my addiction, but adding the interest to write game reviews have pushed me to game with a wider sense of purpose too. I am not just blindly playing a game for an adrenaline rush; it’s the sense of satisfaction I achieve completing the entirety of a game or 90% if not. I’m now monitoring my gaming hours and keeping it under control to a maximum of 3 hours a day. If I don’t game, that’s all good too.

Art — Art has been something I found tough to commit to given my main priority is my novel. The Art Discord server has been giving me inspirations to draw something once a month. They come with deadlines too, so that’s even better. One artwork probably isn’t a big deal for a month but it’s already a miracle for me to draw something.

Language — Language is something to be practiced every day. Even 20 minutes a day is better than nothing. I usually spend at least 30 minutes on Chinese. The days where I feel more confident than usual, I would try to complete a sub-lesson.

Why Do You Have So Little Time?

Now that my priorities are established, I want to reiterate that I am inactive on social medias, granted I am on Twitter and Discord but that’s also because I am using my laptop. I physically do not feel the need or want to use social media to engage in mindless debates and unproductive exchanges. 

The truth is we are all living differently. Some of us require more social interactions than others, hence would spend more time on our cellphones. There’s also the reality that very few of us are making real decisions like we should. A decision is a deal with your mind that no matter what happens, it has to be done. Therefore, when you say, “I should write”, you should immediately replace the “should” with “must”. Otherwise, your brain won’t take your intent seriously and it won’t “care” to help.

Trust me when I say that it’s not easy. Your mind really tricks you that the fun stuff is “more important” than your crafts. The hour you spent on scrolling Twitter, seeing a piece of “hot” thread, reading the tweets, seeing the vitriol expressed, and then sharing your own opinion? You could have spent that same hour in writing your book chapter or complete that manuscript you keep putting off for weeks.

It’s fundamental to understand that your willpower and self-discipline are two related traits that should be developed at the same time. Your willpower is the fuel of your actions. Your discipline is your ability to go past intrusive thoughts, comfort zone, and laziness. It requires consistent practice, so start small. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, it takes time, but giving up is not a choice.

But I Multitask, I Still Can’t Get Things Done

That’s because your focus isn’t in the right place. I learned the hard way that multitasking reduces my cognitive abilities. The human brain really only focuses on one task at a time. While the idea of multitasking is beneficial in some situations, it’s not ideal to incorporate that with important tasks. I realized my artworks and articles that had my full attention always turned out better than the ones I did while multitasking. Somehow giving all you have to a matter at hand improves its quality and your speed too.

I Don’t Multitask, I Still Get Distracted

Live updates on social media enables you to be on the current — and your workload piling and hobbies neglected. I won’t question your willpower but you can’t just train your mind to stay focused when it is in an environment full of distractions. Those YouTube tabs you have on your laptop? Possible distraction. Your phone notifications? Yeah. This is the one that should never disturb your attention. Turn off those notifications or switch it to silent mode, learn not to give in to idle texting because really, that can be done after your tasks. Social media apps too irresistible to ignore? I say delete. A bit extreme but if you are that hooked, that might be your saving grace action.

Careful, You Don’t Want To Be On Autopilot Mode

You don’t want to be just writing or reading just because you have to. You want to know why you are writing or why you are reading. You want to be mindful of the things that surround you. Mindfulness is something I’ve come to practice of late and still am learning to incorporate in my life. It’s nothing more than having a self-awareness, focusing your entire attention on the present moment. 

What I mean is, when you are writing, you are not thinking who is going to read what you wrote, you are not thinking about that nasty remark someone made about you, you are not thinking what are you planning to have for dinner. No. You are in the present. You are writing at this moment because you had thoughts of expressing yourself. Nothing else is in your mind but the words that are guiding your fingers to go with the flow and write on that piece of paper. 

It doesn’t matter what you focus on as long as your mind is in the present. Personally, I like to practice mindfulness in various situations: while I am washing the dishes, making a cup of coffee, taking a shower, or even reading. When your focus is prioritized on what’s happening now, you just naturally perform better in most of the situations. Of course you don’t have to take my word for it, but it doesn’t hurt to try. I’d really love to see you achieve things in life, little or big.

Good News, You Still Have Time

That’s all the more reason to make every minute count now. Until you let yourself be carried by your thoughts, immediate pleasures, fear, and pain, you will experience exactly what you “cultivate”. As the saying goes, “You reap what you sow” — It’s the universal cause-and-effect principle, every thought and feeling you experience and every action you take will kindle an effect. Sunshine or rainy days, that’s on you to decide.

You are a writer.

Sometimes unknowingly, doubts make us feel comfortable because we count ourselves out before attempting to do something. Just like you know how much you believe something is possible, it makes you uncomfortable because now that means you will have to do it.

If you are an aspiring writer, stop aspiring to be a writer because when you write, you are a writer. Start writing now and push the writing culture forward. Even if that means writing 500 words a day or 5 pages a day, you are still putting something out there. It doesn’t hurt to build that mentality and know that things will not go your way but you are going to push nonetheless, be open-minded, get out of your comfort zone, and talk to other writers and learn from each other rather than being on defense mode that your writing will never be good enough.

Yes, it is going to be difficult. I thought how tough it would be for me, especially hailing from a small town and raised in an Asian household. It’s tough because a lot of times when you say what you want to do, a lot of people including parents don’t think you are going to be successful or make a decent living out of it, particularly when it comes down to anything arts-related. It’s tough because you are supposed to be a doctor, engineer, or businessperson. It’s tough because they want you to be someone you don’t want to be… In their mind, it is set because they are fearful.

Now imagine if you told them and they knew that you are going to do great, they probably wouldn’t tell you that you will fail. This holds true for me with an Asian background myself. I can see why as our parents, they were coached from an era of Asia where they didn’t get a lot of chances in life. So their mind is pretty much set that, you only get one chance in this life. 

If you don’t make it, you don’t make it.

A day before I packed my things to begin my career as a writer, a friend told me, “Why would you quit a sales job that could’ve given you everything just to be a writer? You can’t possibly make a living as a writer, no one ever survives being one. You won’t make it.” 

I remember looking straight at her in the face, I wasn’t smiling. I just said, “All I am hearing is you telling me what I cannot do. You’re not telling me what I can do. You’re not giving me a solution about how I can accomplish to be a writer. All you do is spend all your breath telling me what I cannot do and how I am never going to make it. What are you doing with your life?”

I didn’t see a reason to continue the conversation.

I didn’t want to have a person who constantly tells me what they think I can’t do.

I turned away from her, right there and then. 

I never looked back.

There are so many people who are going to tell you your limit. They don’t even know you. Only you know your limits, and you know that by taking action. If you just keep doing what you keep doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’ve been getting. I guess it’s fine if you’re okay with what you’ve been getting, then by all means, carry on. But if you’re not alright with what you’re doing and what you’ve been getting, are you really not going to do something about it?

When you consider your fears of writing out of your comfort zone, ask yourself: Does the thought of not being to do what you love hurts you? Are you going to regret not doing this? In one year from now, will you wish you had written something? Or when you are on your deathbed, will you be alright with the fact that you didn’t step out of your comfort zone and do the thing your heart so desperately wanted you to do?

And if your answer is “Yes, I’m alright in giving up my dreams,” then I will have to ask, why are you still reading this? Because you haven’t given up. You decide what’s important to you and if you honour that or not. You decide if you are a writer.

Back to writing.

And Virginia Woolf said,

Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.

Writing for the most part, to me, was both delightful and stressful. Thankfully, the delight outweighed the stress. I have this strong love-hate relation with writing where constant merry-go-round of inspirations coming in and out have compelled me to confront what it means to be a writer. I could be a content writer, a journalist, an author, a blogger, and that still makes me a writer, regardless of what people have to say. Each piece that I’ve put out is a form of expression and if it makes people feel some time of way about it, it is art in its own right.

Though I love writing and started out with reading fan-fictions for ideas, I never got into writing fan-fictions but I did enjoy hearing the stories that my peers wrote for their own pleasure. College was memorable, I met people who would write for plays, songs, and poetry. I would sit with these people for hours, see their expressions as they describe their characters, the flow of their stories, and we would then write about anything our imagination brought us in that moment. It was beautiful to be able to not care how absurd the stories sounded and how they wrote it.

Yet, the more inspired I was, the more fearful I became. As I grew older and started making a living as a copywriter and web content writer, I have been more conscious in what I have written. This too, falls back to my current work-in-progress, Yung & Jess — a coming of age story where the protagonist, Yung, who is struggling to fit in a world of not only prejudice and firm standards, but even serious legal sanctions as she falls for a woman named Jess. This friendship turned into romance creates a love and longing between these two individuals, one that is genuine and earnest, especially when their inclination and acts are deemed `unspeakable’, and Yung’s future, career and family ties can be at stake.

I would like to be clear on the path that I am with as I write this book, but there’s always a fear at the back of my mind fearing the readers will not understand or think there is no direction in it. Ironically, I am also terrified at them understanding it and being able to encode the messages behind certain paragraphs that hold my deepest of emotions. To a certain extent, I believe each writer have dealt with these feelings where we write from experiences, but not exact experiences. I have too many unwritten stories and while some managed to be on paper, they bring back unpleasant memories of my trauma. Pieces that I have written at 4.00 am in the morning, in the darkest times of my life, where my fingers came to life and typed words that were breathed in with vehemence; where I my tears would drip on the keyboard and I was relieved towards the end.

Now when those scenarios replay vividly in my memory, I realize that I was in such a dark place and I still am, but writing gave me a voice, it became the voice I was looking for in my state of brokenness and emptiness. More importantly, the old pieces of writing allows me to reflect on myself and remind me how far I’ve come. I have gone through a lot, and I will continue to face adversity and keep thriving. I’ll laugh at the scars and bruises and smile later on when I am healed. To say the least, I look forward to this journey in writing my book, Yung & Jess.