“Timing is everything.” I’m not sure who first made that statement, but it’s said enough now that it’s considered a universal truth.
An old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation taught this lesson when the robot officer, Lieutenant Data, embarked on a study of comedy. Boldly going where no robot had gone before, Data attempted to conquer the very human characteristic of humor. He diligently studied every joke, pun, and gag in the ship’s computer data base. Although he knew every joke word for word and diligently tried to relay them to the ship’s crew, no one laughed. Every joke fell flat. His timing was wrong.
The problem was that timing was a subjective, fluid element that wasn’t the same with every joke or story. Timing of the punch line had to be felt, not calculated.
Timing is critical in writing, as well, but in a very different way. At some times in our lives, when to write is more important than what to write.
I turned 50, and looking back, I knew early that I liked to write, and being the managing editor of my high school newspaper, a winner of high school and college writing awards, and a student of inspiring, published creative writing teachers, convinced me that I had some talent. Yet when I married and embarked on the epic journey of raising eight children with the love of my life, while working part-time as a tax accountant, I stopped writing. In fact, because I’m an obsessive reader, I stopped reading as well. I have a hard time pausing when I’m reading a book—usually reading straight through, ignoring sleep, housework, and even my children. Since that characteristic is not conducive to a happy mother or a happy household when small children are involved, I chose to concentrate on my real family and not whatever fictional world a novel might introduce. I continued to read my scriptures, church books, and stories to my children. I could read those without them consuming my life.
“Life is about timing,” claimed the runner Carl Lewis. He ought to know; he spent a life time being timed. Ecclesiastes 3:1 teaches us that “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
To my young friends who are struggling with the desire to read or write but feeling guilty for the effect that it can have on a family or frustrated with their inability to “do it all,” I offer the words of my high school Journalism teacher: “Don’t study writing. Study something else, and then write about it.” Make this time of life be your “Research Period.” Study relationships, study children and teenagers, study the universal truths taught by the scriptures, and most of all study life. Don’t resent what you can’t do now. Don’t just watch from afar. Dive in and enjoy every chaotic moment. Write notes to yourself about funny situations and story ideas. Make outlines for books. Write a scene or two. Research subjects you love.
When the time is right, God will give you the talent and opportunity to accomplish your righteous goals. Your “Research Period” will be over and your “Writing Period” will begin. For me, an ANWA sister and a flood of novel ideas jump-started my interest in writing again. And I haven’t stopped. Yet, I don’t resent even a second of my “research period;” my writing is better now because of my life experiences.
So when you’re introducing yourself at an writers group meeting, don’t ever say, “I probably shouldn’t be here. I haven’t written anything in a while.” Instead, raise your chin and with a knowing smile, simply state, “I’m researching my next great novel.”