Over decades of psychotherapy practice I came to realize that timing was everything. Now as an author, I’m making that discovery all over again.
In the counseling office the therapist’s most insightful thought, that most profound gambit toward goodness, can trigger resistance in the client if spoken too soon. On the other hand, if things proceed too slowly a sense of discouragement and disillusionment blooms.
In all the books on psychotherapy I read (and there were dozens) I don’t think any author ever mentioned that. In all the studies of effective psychotherapy no one ever introduced timing as the independent variable to be manipulated.
Good timing is about reading the readiness, tuning into the anticipation of the other. Comedians can do it with the live audience. Hilarity intensifies with well-timed comedic lines. In the audience, all other thoughts are pushed from the mind, laughter becomes irresistible.
Of course, the room goes dead if the timing isn’t right—in the entertainment hall and the therapy office too.
The effective therapist not only saves the good stuff for the good moment, but knows how to cradle and gentle the client along until that moment comes.
And timing is not just important within the session, but also over the whole course of sessions that comprise the therapeutic relationship. Different stages in the healing process require different approaches, different timings. An effective therapist watches for whether the relationship is going stale, or unfocused, or uselessly repetitive, knows when to switch things up or when to settle in to the sustainable pace.
I practiced psychotherapy for 42 years—practiced, in both senses of the word, reflecting on the process and the timing, desirous of getting better at it.
Now I come to writing. The struggle of how to get the timing right is here too. I have read novels that do it, that keep you guessing and wanting until they froth you to stay up past your bedtime. Other novels simply get tedious, feel wordy or sparse, give you that get on with it sort of feeling, get you wondering what else you might read instead.
With An Incoming Tide I decided to set off the novel with a bang. Then what? I needed a sense of rhythm. The sequence of chapters based on successive days over a two week period established that for me. But to jump right in?
In composing jazz music there are times when I need a bridge. Chapter two, written well after the rest of An Incoming Tide, became that bridge. A transition between twenty-five years before and when the events of family life pick up again. But even that bridge needed to have its own timing—ah-ha! a series of seven portraits to carry both backstory and foreshadowing.
Did I get the timing right? I really can’t be the judge of that, only you can as the reader.
Now, as an author rather than a psychologist, I’m at a disadvantage. For all the years in the therapy office I could watch the telltale signs of whether or not my client was with me, whether I was getting the timing right. Now you go off and do your reading alone. As bizarre and intrusive as it sounds, I kind of wish I was there with you, watching your face, seeing when you get up to go because you really need to put in your laundry or water your plants. Then I’d watch to see how soon you pick up the novel again, settling back into your reading chair.
But I can’t.
I have to just let it be. I hope the timing will be okay, that it will keep you engaged without hurrying you along too much, that there will be moments to savour as well as those to propel you forward.
Hey, if you’ve read An Incoming Tide I’d love to know whether I got the timing right. And, I suppose at this stage, I can’t lose any more sleep over it—but maybe you will.
Archive contents ... click on the link below to open
April 2022 — Someone called me a Nazi.
March 2022 — Shush! Don't tell anyone.
February 2022 — So does life imitate art? Well, maybe sometimes.
January 2022 — The two most powerful lines in the book.
December 2021 — About time and being human.
November 2021 — Not a tidy little murder mystery
October 2021 — Flow versus focus.
September 2021 -- It's beautiful because it tells the truth.