Since I moved away from the UK, seventeen years ago, the way I spend time with my mum has changed. Whereas in the past, I popped back for regular long weekends, now, I go back and stay with her for a month in the summer, and she comes out to visit me and my family for a month too. And because there’s always a long gap between these visits, the focus on our time together has changed too. It isn’t just about ‘catching up and hanging out’, instead – in my mum’s words – it’s about ‘Quality Time’ (and yes, I capitalised this because that’s the amount of emphasis my mum puts on it!).
That phrase, ‘Quality Time’, has taken a lot of getting used to. When I was younger, I used to roll my eyes. Why did every minute have to serve a purpose? Walking to the shop together was simply ‘walking to the shop together’; but to my mum, it was ‘an opportunity to chat about x’. Her intention for the experience was linked directly to her goal of achieving ‘Quality Time’. To me, hanging around the house playing board-games with the kids, was simply ‘hanging round the house playing board-games with the kids’, but to my mum, it was ‘making the most of being together and sharing a lovely family day’. Again, this was directly linked to her goal of ‘Quality Time’. Everything always had a purpose that was deeper than the action itself.
But now I’m older. And a touch wiser. And I’ve learned – as so many of us do – that my mother has had the right idea all along. Appreciating the meaning of every moment and how it links to our values, in effect, makes each moment more meaningful. And now, when my mum rings me and tells me about the Quality Time that she’s spent with my brothers and their kids, I fully appreciate the value, the love, the worry or the joy, behind each Quality Time anecdote.
And this is where the inevitable link to writing comes in!
. . .
Often, when I’m editing, I read scenes that the author has clearly enjoyed writing, but the scene has no Intention linked to the Goals of the story. These scenes are ‘catching up and hanging out’ experiences. Without a link to the internal or external goal, the moments described might be pleasant or clever or scary or sad, but they do nothing to move the story forward or to develop the characters’ arcs. They have no meaning beneath the surface. In this situation, I either suggest ways to edit the scene to create intention and a link to the goal, OR, if this link is too tenuous, I have to recommend that the scene is cut. My mum’s rule is the key to avoiding this: The reader only has limited time to spend with your characters, and therefore, you have to make sure that every moment is meaningful – Every Moment Must Be ‘Quality Time’.
This summer, for the first time in seventeen years, I wasn’t able to go back to the UK to get my fix of Quality Time with my mum, because of Covid. And, since I am now living in Spain (currently a Covid hotspot), I’m not sure when, or if, she’ll be able to come out to visit me. But I know one thing for certain: when our paths cross again, I’m going to make Quality Time my agenda for every moment. In a world of uncertainty, Quality Time with loved ones, should be everyone’s goal.