How We Escaped – By Elmer Shelhamer

Chapter 15

How To Find Time For Study — By Mrs. E. E. Shelhamer

When we read a book we are apt to picture the author comfortably situated in a cozy arm-chair, away from all care and interruptions for hours at a time. It is supposed that the house is well equipped with competent servants, and that nothing remains for the author to do but to sit and write.

This is as it should be if the matron of the home is to help make the living by her pen; but if some of us waited for such favorable circumstances we would never get much done. Though we are not blest with plenty of spare time, still much may be accomplished if the few spare moments are carefully saved. A large number of those who have done the most along literary lines have been people with very little opportunity. Their ambition has overmastered their circumstances, and their determination won.

If one desires to have time for instructive reading or literary work, he will have to forego some things that many people think are essential to their happiness, such as fancy work, light reading, chit-chat, parties, extra dressing, and a dozen other things. If it is agreeable to the man of the house, the cooking may be done more simply, omitting cake and pie-making. Newspapers coming every day take about all the spare time most men have. If a weekly paper be substituted, the news will be more condensed and reliable, and will not cost so much time or money.

There are some things that will help one who is struggling to obtain time for study. The first is the thought brought out by Bishop William Pierce, when he said, in substance, that God is the author of knowledge, and the closer one lives to Him the wiser he will become.

The second is method. Write out a program for the day, and follow it if possible, planning to read a little at certain hours. This can easily be done where there are no small children, and even with these a written plan pinned upon the wall will help. For instance, such a list as the following has helped the writer to accomplish more than she could have done otherwise:

Breakfast at 7 o’clock; family prayer at 7:30; dish-washing, sweeping, etc., 8:00; fifteen minutes for Bible study at 9:30; dinner at 12:00.

Then I tried to be through with everything so that I could write or practice music by four o’clock, and by having an early supper I could read or write after the children were asleep for the night. Often the interruptions and cares have been such that I could not crowd any literary work into the day, and the only way to get it in was to ask some member of the family to read aloud while the others were finishing the meal or while I was working. It is a fine plan to let one read aloud after supper, while the others are washing dishes or sitting around the fireside sewing. When a baby is in the house one cannot always have quiet evenings, as some babies do not retire till late, and when this is the case, a woman who does all her own work will have to admit that she has no spare time.

Still there is hope. At such times I have been driven nigh unto despair for time to write and study, and many a time have I placed a book on the kitchen table, open and propped up, so I could catch a word now and then as I hastily passed by it to the sink or the stove. Many songs and Bible chapters have been memorized in this way, and short quotations have been learned from various books, and used when getting up articles or sermons.

When sewing, I often place a book or paper on a chair or table in front of me, so that a line may be read now and then. While holding the baby, sometimes one can read if the book is placed where the baby will not get it.

New tunes and poems will come into one’s mind when doing such work as sweeping, as then one is not apt to be interrupted, and the mind is free. While riding on streetcar or steam-cars is a good time to compose.

Just now a little chubby form presents herself at my chair saying, “Up,” and up she comes into my arms. She is soon comforted and rested, and asks to crawl down again. I could not deny her the privilege of being cuddled, for her little heart needs it, and books must come in later. I have really come to enjoy writing with a baby in my arms.

When I was a girl an old-maid was once entertained in mother’s home. She noticed my strenuous methods for acquiring knowledge, and remarked that her way was to wait until all her work was done, and then to sit down and read. I much preferred her way, but God had not blest me with the time and opportunity she possessed.

While attending school, having to work for my board, time was so scarce, books were placed open upon one end of the ironing board while I did the ironing for a family of six.

When I had a home of my own, I saw that if anything along literary lines was accomplished it would be by planning and scheming, and the foregoing methods were adopted.

There were some who seemed to have no ambition above merely existing, and they loved to talk. They were a great trial to me, and I thought if they knew how much I needed and appreciated my few spare moments they surely would not stay so long. So I adopted the following method: All hand-sewing was left and put in a basket, which was kept in a convenient place. When the neighbors came in I begged the privilege of doing a little mending, or of working some button-holes while we talked. In this way the time went swiftly, and I found that the work-basket kept about empty, whereas before I was always behind. The best of it all was that it was done in the time that hitherto had been wasted.

A notebook is a fine thing to carry with one. Choose one small enough to go into your pocket or handbag. In this put passages from books which you wish to memorize, and in it write stray thoughts and circumstances which may be of use later. There are many times, while out away from the house, that this notebook may be taken out and read — on the train, waiting for a friend or a car, your turn at the counter, and even at lectures or other public gatherings before the program commences. Many a time have I seen my sainted mother open her Bible at a place like that to improve her time, while others were chatting or gazing at the incomers.

Thoughts that are valuable sometimes come to one at very unexpected times. When busy all day, I have often been waked up at night by Divine inspiration to write a poem or article, which always leaves before morning, and is lost forever, unless I have obeyed my promptings and written it down at the time it was given.

Often a new thought comes while washing dishes or clothes, and new tunes come when rocking baby to sleep. For this reason I find it best to keep a pencil in my hair, lest a stray thought be lost. If I wait until there is time to stop work and write it down at the desk it usually never gets done. Any old thing will do to write it on — a board, a paper sack, a pasteboard carton, a shoe box, or the under-side of a chair bottom.

At one time I was rushed, and could find nothing upon which to write my new subject, so with a pencil put it onto the under-side of a dinner plate. When a pencil has been unavailable, I have used a burnt match or a stick dipped in ink or paint. One time when moving, pencil and paper were packed away. A fine subject for an article presented itself. I had a fountain pen, however and quickly taking off my shoe, the subject was written upon its lining. My husband playfully said that after this people would want to be reading the lining of my shoes.

I have never accomplished much. Perhaps I would have done more if I had had a better chance, but what little has been done I owe first to God; second to my mother, who taught me to gather up the fragments (of time), that nothing be lost; and third, to my husband, who has encouraged me along the line of my calling.