Blocking Time

Do you ever feel there isn’t enough time to do the things you want to do outside of your day job? Are you often just so tired at the end of the working day that all you want to do is lie on the sofa and watch crap TV just to relax your mind? But then the guilt sets in, because such activity feels like it actively diminishes your intelligence rather than bolstering it, and if you don’t use your time wisely how will you ever finish that novel/Open University course/improving tome etc.?

If you do feel that way, you’re not alone. I for one experience this cycle of worry and guilt on a daily basis. Even though I know that being a published writer is my goal, somehow it seems that writing at the end of a full day’s work (and, when I can be bothered, a post-work gym session) is always the last thing I want to do.

But then, yesterday, I struck on the most blindingly obvious and simple concept: Instead of telling myself that I had to spend the whole evening writing, with no time to do anything else (the usual mantra due to guilt at not having written enough in the preceding days/weeks), I told myself to spend just one hour working on my screenplay, at the end of which I could spend an hour watching any TV programme I liked. And at the end of that, I would go to bed and spend an hour reading my book (because, in my experience – and somewhat ironically given the benefits – when you’re feeling overtired and too busy the first thing to go is the luxury of reading before bed).

And you know what? It worked. I didn’t do a huge amount of my screenplay, but I did more than I had done in the past few days. And, more than anything, it felt like I had removed a big obstacle that had been standing in my way. I no longer felt scared of the enormity of the task I was facing, because I had broken it down into a manageable task. Moreover, I didn’t feel (as I so often do) that writing meant having to sacrifice all other enjoyment, or that I had to choose between writing and reading (a horrendous choice for a writer because without reading how can you improve your writing? Catch 22).

So often we tell ourselves that we are useless, that it’s impossible to realise our dreams. But what if we’re just framing things incorrectly? What if the problem is not our lack of talent, or even commitment, but rather the very simple and easily corrected issue of time management?

We all know that if we want to do something we must make time for it. But what makes so many people stumble at the first hurdle is the misguided view they must devote every spare moment to the pursuit of that goal. Wrong. Start small, with ten, twenty, thirty minutes a day – whatever feels achievable to you. And make sure that you stick to doing it – simple. It takes time to form a habit, and it isn’t always easy. But if you don’t start, the only person you’ll have to blame for not achieving your potential is yourself.


The perennial debate of “they’re”, “there” and “their”

As a precocious child at primary school I had labelled myself as ‘one to watch’ in the literary world by the approximate age of seven. During weekly writing classes I refused point blank to write anything other than my ‘never ending story’ – a down-the-rabbit-hole (well, mole-hole, actually, but I digress) type tale not that dissimilar to Alice in Wonderland, though I would have driven a stake through my own heart before admitting plagiarism.

In the years since then I’ve had a love affair with the many nuances of the English language and have greatly enjoyed grappling with grammar, spelling and punctuation. Which is why I sit firmly in the ‘anti-dumbing down’ camp when it comes to modern day language usage.

So you can imagine how horrified I was to read what Simon Horobin (a professor of English at Magdalen College, for goodness’ sake!) said at this week’s Hay Festival. According to Adi Bloom, who wrote this article for the Times Education Supplement Magazine, Horobin – author of a book entitled ‘Does Spelling Matter?’ (YES!!) –  suggested that the spellings of “they’re”, “there” and “their” could be standardised. “Is the apostrophe so crucial to the preservation of our society?” he asked, before concluding that “spelling is not a reliable indication of intelligence.”

On that last point I must agree with Mister Horobin – poor spelling is not necessarily a sign of low intelligence, but (and let’s exclude dyslexics from this argument for obvious reasons) it is a sign of sloppiness. In the majority of cases people have been taught how to correctly use grammar but don’t view it as important enough to master. Now I’m not archaic enough to hold the view that in this brave new digital age all language must be set in stone. But, in my humble opinion being able to demonstrate a basic grasp of when it’s appropriate to use ‘your’ versus ‘you’re’ is hardly an insurmountable challenge.

That’s why I for one am glad that the education secretary – for all his faults – has developed a new English curriculum that sets strict rules for learning correct grammar in primary school. Because if they don’t know they’re arses from there elbows then their just not going to get very far in life – and if Simon Horobin doesn’t realise that, he must be even closer to Alice in Wonderland than my never ending story.