Like most of my friends as well as the entire planet, the easiest way for not volunteering or committing to do something is to say, “really sorry, but my time is not my own.” This usually calms feelings of disappointment, and for me it’s always the truth.
As a society, we generally find it hard to say “no.” Yet we’re already stretched thin by work, personal responsibilities, putting out fires, and taking care of mind and body. Common sense about survival fails to come to our rescue.
There have always been 24 hours in a day, yet it doesn’t feel that way anymore. Can we outsmart time in some clever way to better prioritize our needs? What stands in our way? Which came first, the slow, steady erosion of our attention span, or the burden we increasingly put on ourselves to do more, see more, read more, and be in the moment more? Invariably, the “how” is eclipsed by “now what?”
My own goal is not just to quit adding to the pile of activities I call “life,” but to whittle the pile down to its most important elements. For me, that includes some reading and writing time every day.
For my reading friends, many prefer embracing specific genres and novelists that they have always found “satisfying.” They escape into the familiar, into a world and characters whose predictability they’ve almost been guaranteed by the author’s previous works. They like predictability. They fall in love with a character. A good story is like a jingle or something your mother told you that you can’t keep out of your head.
Most important, the escapism and “down time” provided by reading are needed by many of us as much as sleeping and eating.
Audio books have been a boon to time-starved muti-taskers whose minds seemingly occupy several universes at the same moment. For anyone whose attention span is more fragile, here’s another time-saver to try.
Forgetting the name of the author for a moment, try reading a short novel (around 55,000 words) that might have all the entertainment value, emotion and depth of a traditional 85,000 word book. As a rough comparison, that’s the difference between reading 200 pages or 300…. between taking 8 hours to finish a book or 12.
May not sound like much, but those extra four hours could be spent catching up on sleep, texting, or picking up another book. Seriously. We economize everything else—why not reading, too?
From someone who has been writing and publishing for a while, short novels, like short stories or poetry, are challenging to write. Whether it’s your prose, plot, characters or theme you’re constantly struggling with, there’s little margin for error. Put simply, you have only so many words to work with, and none can be wasted.
Michael R. French’s just-published adult novel, Ghost With Two Hearts, is available online and in select bookstores. Its length is about 54,000 words.
Michael R. French
Michael French is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University. He is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.