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Finding Time to Write – Why it’s Never Too Late

How to Resist the Call of the Time Sink


Finding Time to Write

By David Grebow

As long as I can remember – and that is currently a long time – I have always wanted to publish a book. My dad always thought that people who published books were a special breed. Homo Bookiens. It took until I was 70 to make it happen, which should tell you two things: first, never say it won’t happen no matter how many moons you wish for it. And two, here’s the secret: no one knows how old your words are.

My first nonfiction book is called “Minds at Work”. It was published by ATD Press, a well-known publisher, as a hard copy book and an ebook.  I was thrilled to see it appear on Amazon, Nook and the other online bookstore sites. And much to my amazement It’s becoming a bestseller and I can finally and proudly say “I am a writer.”

At social gatherings and more formal dinner parties, when I am asked “What do you do?” that has become my automatic response. And when they usually reply, “Oh, what have you written?” I can unabashedly tell them “A bestselling nonfiction business book called Minds at Work.”



I spend more time these days…

…seeking out other writers to talk about the work of writing. And every writer I speak with says the same thing in different ways. The biggest obstacle to writing is time. For me at 70, time took on a different meaning than it did when I was younger. In my 40’s, 50’s and even early 60’s, when I had the illusion that time was infinite, and I still had plenty of time.

Time to waste on other things aside from writing. When I first started thinking about the book, I had years of blogging and thought how easy it would be to take all the blogs and mash them into a book. But a mashup was not a book. So, I Googled “how to get a book published” and after reading a number of articles, decided I needed to find a publisher, write an outline and add a sample chapter.

I had written blogs for an association called ATD, looked at their book list, and decided they would work as a publisher since I was writing on the subjects they seemed to publish. I went ahead and wrote an outline to a book I would have liked to read, and even wrote a chapter. Actually, the sample chapter was a revised blog I had written several years ago that had received a high number of comments and likes.

I never really tho9ught the proposal would be accepted so it was all make-believe book writer time. I submitted my proposal and a month to the day later it was accepted. Suddenly it was no longer make believe, and the deadline to complete the first draft became an insistent and screamingly loud voice calling from my grave: “You are running out of time, there is no more time to waste. Write now!”



You can, as I discovered, buy back time.

You cannot purchase added seconds or minutes or hours or days. But you can move it from doing one thing to another, from not writing to writing. That was the choice. From not writing to writing. It was an either-or equation. What I discovered ranged from the obvious to the surprising.

I called them “Time Sinks” and was driven by the feeling that I was skating on thin ice over quicksand. Some of the obvious were quickly dropped – no more television, farewell to new BFF in the progressive and resistance bubble Rachel, Brian and Lawrence.  NPR as my morning alarm clock was replaced by a loud get-your-ass-out-of-bed-now klaxon. Deleted Facebook and Twitter from all points of entry, smartphone, laptop, desktop, and Kindle.

My long and beautifully written emails became short to-the-point notes with uppercase ACTION subject lines. My blogs went silent leading some of my readers to wonder if I died. Long walks turned into short jogs. Huff Post no longer distracted my time on the toilet. Food found its way from my gourmet from scratch meals into a forget-about-it crock-pot and rice cooker.  It started to become a game.

Everything I did was metered, with a number attached to it, an amount of time spent on either writing or not writing. I was in every sense of the words “on the clock”. And writing started to win big time.

When you get serious, really serious about writing, you need to equally serious about time. Time is spent either putting words on the page or doing something directly related to getting those words on the page or it is not. Life simply turns into Writing and not Writing. Once I found the time that I had lost on other things, the book began to appear, page after page after page.



The accepted outline from the proposal…

…became the scaffold and filling in the spaces was how I would spend my precious time. Even though I had a good friend as a co-author, the many parts of the book that were my responsibility meant I was on my own. No one but me could do the work.

My day as a writer started early. I was at my desk by 8 o’clock sharp. I remembered reading a trick that Ernest Hemingway – one of my favorite writers – had for getting going in the morning. He always left the last sentence from the day before unfinished. So, my day started with the fragment of the last thought staring at me daring me to finish it and commit it to the page.

I had removed all possible distraction from the desktop so there was no news flashing across the bottom of the screen, no bursts of clever comments from friends on Facebook, no earth-shattering tweets flying into my consciousness. I even turned the sound on my smartphone off when I was in writing.

I made sure to attach pictures of the people I really wanted to talk with, and if someone called, and no friendly face appeared, it went unnoticed and unanswered. I had created a social media deprivation tank for myself and I was alone with my thoughts.



To be completely honest…

…it was not all moments of thinking and writing, polishing and polishing some more. At the end of the book, after all the words were edited, rewritten and revised for the final time, I wrote the following in the Acknowledgements:

“The words in this book are like an iceberg: What you read is just the tip of all the thinking, discussing, reading, researching, reviewing, arguing, refining, and rewriting that went into it. We did the work of writing the words and get to put our names on the cover. Yet that’s only part of the story.

There are many people who inspired us, made us sit up and take notice, forced us to get behind our assumptions, and provided us with enough confirmation to make us believe the ideas in this book are valid. Friends who drank with us, fed us, held our hands, watched us vent, and more than anything, listened to us as we talked through the ideas.” 

The writing time also included many conversations in person, usually over drinks, and sometimes on the phone. Even though I found more time to write, there were those moments of doubt, when the words were not forthcoming, when I was convinced that I had fooled my publisher and baffled them with my bullshit since there was no brilliance shining anywhere on the pages.

Those moments and conversations were invaluable, and time well spent, and I add them in as “writing time” even though the words were often never committed to the book.



And then one morning…

…the first draft was done and off to the editor. I have never been a writer who felt his words were sacred texts that should never be altered. But the editing process was an eye opener. From the first word to the last, everything was questioned. The proofreading would come later, where spelling. Punctuation and the all-important citations would be checked and double-checked.

This was the thinking, the process of building a sentence that became a paragraph that turned into a page that led to a chapter. Phrases I thought were so clever were just that so clever. I was learning to get over my “cuteness”, leave my passive voice behind, get to the point, say what I needed to say and stop wasting the reader’s time.

The editing process took as long as the time to write the words. After the editor was finished, after all the discussions and pleading and begging and finally giving in to a voice much wiser and far more experienced that I was, the proofing was a word picnic that went by as fast as I could turn the pages.

I would next lay eyes upon it as a final galley ready for publication. No more changes allowed. The writing time on the book was over. I remember that moment with the vividness you reserve for “first times” – for falling in love or giving someone a wet French kiss or even better having clumsy and curious sex that ends your unwanted virginity.

That memory is a filled with a kind of rosy chest-thumping elation tinged at the margins with the deep blue color of loss and sadness. Time is up, the book is done.



I must admit

One of the first thoughts was to reconnect all the time sinks, get back to “Like”, “Comment”, and “Share”, find out “What’s happening” in the Twitterverse, be fed the daily important and unimportant events by my news feeds, and send out long and soulful emails to all my friends so my words could prove what a great writer I was. It was as tempting as any substance is to an addict after a long period of rehab.

Even though my fingers were poised on the keyboard, I held firm. I spent a small fortune of my time here on Earth to become a writer, and time’s winged chariot was soon about to run me over for good. I could not throw all that effort away like the innumerable crumpled, unwanted pages I had rejected. I could not forget all the sleepless nights haunted by worry and fear or interrupted by the compelling and irresistible need to capture a new thought or scribble down a great phrase. I had become, after all this time, a writer.

I am now 71, one year and one book older.  And I am never going to waste time again since there is even less to waste. The irony is that this has always been true. It took me until the end of my life, when time was almost up, to fully realize it and do something about it. I am working on my second book. With any luck I’ll have the time to finish this one as well. To all you younger writers who have taken the time to read this, I sincerely want to thank you for your time.



Now please, take off your skates, get off the quicksand and out of the Time Sink, and start writing.

My publisher wanted a professional writer photo for the book jacket, so I took the time to find a professional writer photographer and here is the final choice that graces the back flap. You cannot hear it, but I was thinking “So this is what a writer looks like. I thought there were supposed to be a stack of books and a roaring fireplace behind me.”


David Grebow is an author, speaker, and CEO. He has also held senior development and leadership positions with leading technology and education companies including IBM, where he co-founded the Institute for Advanced Learning. David is also a co-author of Creating a Learning Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2004) and served on the Editorial Review Board for Information Age Publishing,

David’s company, KnowledgeStar™, is a consulting firm founded in 2006 to provide insight about the intersection of digital technology and education. Our clients include Fortune 500 corporations, start-ups, NGOs and leading analyst firms. Find out more here.

And now we want to hear from you! What’s your biggest TIME SINK? Let us know in the comments!

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