Saturday, March 5, 2011

Breath and Time

By Sharazade (Guest Blogger)

There are some branches of yoga philosophy that hold that each person is born with a certain number of breaths. When you have breathed the last pre-determined breath, you die. Therefore, lengthening your breaths, and slowing your rate of breathing, will also lengthen your life.

I’m not sure if I believe that on a literal level—and if I did, it would be a somewhat panic-inducing thought. Every time I jogged a mile and quickened my breathing, I’d be thinking, “Darn it! There goes a month at the end!”

But metaphorically, at least at some level, it does work for me. Some things in our lives are limited, and some certainly seem limited. For writers, two of the biggest are ideas and time.

It’s a question non-writers put to writers: “Where do you get your ideas?” We all know of writers who seemed to have only one book in them—Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights), Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind), Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird). Some authors write many books, but seemingly only one story (no, I’m not naming names!). Some authors who seem downright prolific still worry sometimes that they might have dried up or become repetitive.

When you write in one genre, such as erotica, there’s an increased risk. How many different ways are there to have sex? Fortunately, quite a few—but arguably not an infinite number (or at least, not an infinite number of credible ways).

Fortunately, though, sex—good sex—isn’t about acts, it’s about people. And if there aren’t an infinite number of people, there are at least a good many more than I’ve ever met. Even one person is so much more than one, because you’re constantly changing in reaction to circumstances and experiences. People who have been having more or less the same type of sex with the same person for many, many years (and I am one of these) will say it’s a “you can’t step in the same river twice” sort of thing. I don’t think you could have the same sex twice even if you tried.

Nor is language to describe a variety of people doing a variety of things for a variety of reasons limited. I’m not even opposed to using clich├ęs in erotic writing, as I’ve written before, but those who are needn’t worry that English (or any other language) has been all used up. The classic “poor scholar’s test for plagiarism” is to put seven words of the suspected sentence between quotation marks and plop it into google. That’s also a nice testament to your own originality. It’s encouraging to put your own phrases into google and watch them not come up. Just as painters can still paint unique pictures of flowers, and songwriters new odes to love, so can we still put words together in fresh ways.

So that’s the good news. But there’s another way to see the breath metaphor—as time. We don’t know how many hours have been allotted to us, but we do know there’s a limit. There’s a lifetime limit, and shorter, more pressing limits: only so many weeks before a deadline, only so many days before the weekend, only so many hours before bedtime.

Few writers make a living solely off writing. Instead, writing competes with other, often more lucrative pursuits. My “other job” is editing; and if I have an assured $60 - $75 an hour to edit this, versus a potential $50 if I sell a fiction story… and the mortgage is due in X weeks… Most writers, though, are working a 40+ hour a week job, plus commuting time, and have friends, families, sports, hobbies, and other commitments, and around these they must fit their writing. It can seem circular, sometimes—in order to justify more time writing, the writing should pay; but the writing won’t pay until you can spend more time on it.

Even writing interferes with writing. There is the story crafting itself, but then the editing and revising, then the letters to agents and publishers and anthology editors. Once a story or book is sold comes the blogging and social networking and asking for reviews. Sometimes the “writing to support the writing” takes as much time as the writing.

Whenever I come across that yogic saying on each person having only a certain number of breaths for his/her lifetime, I’m reminded of an old episode of the television comedy “Get Smart.” It doesn’t matter how, trust me, but somehow Max and the Chief get locked inside an airtight room-sized bank vault. Somehow they know the room contains only enough oxygen for them to stay alive for an hour. Once this is established, Max begins vigorously exercising: jumping jacks and push-ups and the like. “Max! What are you doing?!” asks the scandalized Chief. “Hey. You use your air how you want to, and I’ll use mine how I want to,” Max replies.

Now, it would be selfish of us to use up other authors’ air, I mean, time (by pestering them with email or phone calls when they’re working, for example), but yes, we do get to choose how to spend our own hours. We can spend them writing, or revising, or thinking, or relaxing, or experiencing things to later write about, or eating & exercising & sleeping to stay healthy as we write. Everyone will choose a different way to spend those hours. The only mistake, I think, would be to lose sight of the fact that our time—our breath—is limited, and that our choice of how to spend it should be deliberate.

Bio: Sharazade is professional writer, editor, and consultant, with more than 15 books published under another name. She divides her time among Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the U.S. Not surprisingly, her stories tend to feature some aspect of travel--modes of transportation or exotic locales. She enjoys stories that are realistic enough that they might have happened and fanciful enough that they might not have. She values communication, adventure, exploration, passion, and love. Her first collection of erotica, Transported: Erotic Travel Tales, was published by Fanny Press. It is available from Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.

Find Shar at her blog on writing and reading at


  1. Sharazade,

    Thanks for the "Get Smart" quote! One of my favorite old shows. Max could be counted on to deliver many "pearls of wisdom" per episode. "Would you believe..."

    Your point about the infinite variety of people and how we are always changing is so true. Sexuality is about life, and it is a deep expression of being alive. It is never the same twice.

    A great post all around. Thank you.


  2. Hello, Shar,

    Thanks for joining us at Oh Get a Grip, and for a wonderful post...just as I expected from you!


  3. Shar,

    Allotted time is so important to writers. And you're right, we only improve our writing by writing more. In a couple weeks, we change our clocks and theoretically are given another hour. Let's all invest it in our writing.

  4. Oops, we lose an hour, not gain one. Darn it! They stole an hour from our writing!

  5. Shar, great post. I think about this a lot. I'm probably well past the mid-point of my life and I wonder how much time I have left and I know there are things I want to say in that time, things I want to write. As panic-inducing as it can be at times, that knowledge helps drive me to take chances with my writing that I never would have taken while younger.

  6. An essay packed full of thoughtful and eloquently expressed points . . . complete with Maxwell Smart and self-Googling. Wonderful!

  7. "And... loving it!" Thanks OGAG people for having me!

    I struggle sometimes with thinking my hours spent relaxing or just "being" are not productive, because I have nothing tangible to show for them--and yet I know they're essential for me. It is, though, one thing I love about writing books, that when I'm done I have a physical product in my hand that I can hold and say of it, "I made this."

  8. I struggle sometimes with thinking my hours spent relaxing or just "being" are not productive, because I have nothing tangible to show for them--and yet I know they're essential for me.

    And, hey, life should be enjoyed, as much as possible, right? So if you've enjoyed yourself relaxing or "being"—then that's a positive accomplishment, in my book.

  9. Shar -

    A while back I realized that I was poisoning my own happiness by stressing out about my writing and promoting productivity. My worries were stealing the joy. I decided to try and let it go, to do what I do and be happy with that.

    Sometimes I even succeed!

  10. Fantastic blog!

    One thing over a decade of very limited success has done for me, it's kept me aware that I write because I enjoy it.

    As far as the number of books in a writer, I always think of the screenwriter, Charlie Kauffman, who told an interviewer that he puts everything he has into writing a screenplay. When the interviewer asked, well what do you do when you want to write another? He said, "I'm a different person, then. So I repeat that process."


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