Friday, December 14, 2012

The Importance of Doing Nothing

 by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Lately, I’ve had ideas bursting out of me at crazy times of the day: frequently when I’m doing something else.

I’m driving a car and am struck by three or four ideas or bits of dialogue or plot points or character names.  I was honked at yesterday while dreaming at a stoplight (particularly irksome for me because I'm usually the honk-er and not the honk-ee).

I’m having a conversation with someone and get ideas.

I’m falling asleep (this is happening on a daily basis now) and getting ideas.

These ideas are for current projects, future projects, and a nonfiction project I don’t have time for but am doing anyway.

My creative thoughts are just leaping out at me during any halfway quiet moment because I’m so busy they don’t have the opportunity to naturally develop during brainstorming sessions.

The funny thing (here in the States, anyway) is that free time, where you’re just doing nothing, isn’t particularly valued.

My son, for instance, was involved in way too many activities last year.  He was gone most of the time—day in and day out, on weekends, and in the evenings.  He was drained, so I pulled him out of one of the main time-stealing culprits—marching band.

I ran into one of the other marching band parents and she asked me about it.  I said that he was too busy and was  too rarely at home.

“Well, what’s he going to do with that free time?” she asked.

I just blinked at her.  Of course I was the wrong person to ask this question of.  “Whatever he wants to,” I said.  “Stare off into space if he wants to. It's free time."

“He’ll be bored,” she said. 

“That might be a good thing.” 

I can’t remember the last time I was bored.  I’m frequently restless, but never bored.  Being bored always led to creative pursuits for me, though.

This importance placed on structured activities is apparently not only a modern phenomenon. Here’s a bit of dialogue where Christopher Robin explains to Pooh that he won’t be around as much anymore (he’s being sent off to boarding school):
I'm not going to do nothing anymore."
"Never again?"
"Well, not so much. They don't let you."
The House at Pooh Corner.  A.A. Milne.  1928.

There does seem to be a conspiracy against nothingness. 

I was glad to see that the other parent plans to pull her child out of band at the end of this year. Nothing against band—I take any opportunity to support arts for children—but because her son was equally run ragged.

When was the last time you penciled in some nothingness into your schedule?