I do not consider myself a huge fan of racing the clock. I’m someone who likes to ease into a day, getting out of bed a few hours before I need to be anywhere and performing the necessary rituals to get my day started over the course of at least two hours. Sometimes, though, my body has other plans and sends me back to sleep, robbing me of the graceful start to the day I prefer.
When I’m working, I refer to getting going as “answering the bell” borrowing a term from boxing. As long as both fighters answer the bell, the bout continues. I typically wake myself up without using an alarm clock, because I almost always wake up about once every two hours when I’m sleeping and it’s a (usually) simple matter to get out of bed. On a few notable occasions, I’ve overslept and wake up with less than an hour to get ready. So far, I’ve managed to beat the clock and have never failed to answer the bell.
Alarm clocks are often useless to me for awakening. I have one that makes a loud, annoying beep, and, if I happen to be dreaming, I simply incorporate the noise into the dream. I found it more effective to have the radio come on, tuned to either a news station or one with lots of unscripted banter by the deejays. Hearing someone talking activates my curiosity and causes me to take an interest, and I’m less likely to fall asleep again. This isn’t foolproof either, but it works more often than random noise.
One of the best ways to increase tension in a story is to start a clock, or give a character a deadline that seems impossible to meet. From there, piling numerous diversions on top of one another contributes to building a sense of urgency. One of the effective ways to grab a reader’s attention is to begin with a character in a dire situation, then go back and relate how they got there. One story I wrote during college started with a character on top of an abandoned building about to be imploded.
I often take a non-linear approach with time in my writing, presenting events out of sequence, sometimes showing the resolution before the setup. Some readers enjoy this but others find it confusing, so I try to include enough subtle roadmaps to alert readers where they are in a given situation. It still makes the writing somewhat challenging, but to each their own.
Time is a challenge for us all, since we often either have way too much or not nearly enough and it’s easy to let it slip away. I’m usually obsessed with what time it is and having a watch again helps me keep up with where in the daily schedule I am. When I’m between jobs and have a lot of free time, I find it’s much easier to let the day slip away. Oftentimes, before I realize, it will be late afternoon and I’ll wonder where the day has gone.
Jim Croce used to sing about keeping time in a bottle and storing away moments for reuse later. Of course, he expressed the notion more romantically than that, but the idea is a good one. Unfortunately, we don’t really have that option and must deal with lost opportunities by promising to be more careful with time going forward. I’m sometimes floored to learn how much time has passed between significant milestones in my past. Perhaps it’s best to live in the moment and appreciate the here and now, given how elusive time can be.