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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Writers Can’t Afford to Waste Time, Right? Wrong!


I get it. You have to make money and you either do that through writing, in which case you don’t have time to fart around, or you make money through another skill and write in your “spare time,” in which case you don’t have time to fart around.

You want time to spend with people you care about. You have responsibilities to attend to. You need time to work out, sleep, play, read, binge-watch Netflix. (And check your phone every ten minutes, but that’s another post.)

If you’re going to have any time to write, you have to invest your time wisely.

Time is limited. Time is precious. There is no time to waste.

Truth Is, Writers Can’t Afford NOT to Waste Time

Inspiration doesn’t come in in a box delivered to your door

Creativity does not follow a schedule. You can’t order inspiration delivered to your door like a pizza.

Imagination, as Brenda Ueland observed, “needs moodling,–long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”

The truth is, “wasting time” is anything but a waste.

Your brain needs downtime when you are not intentionally striving to do or think “something important.”

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.” – Tim Kreider

Kreider is not a neurologist, but his observation is supported by research.

In fact, one of the biggest obstacles to creativity is being too busy. We keep ourselves over-busy because we’re afraid to waste time, perhaps because wasting time might prove our insignificance.

On the other hand, being willing to stop striving and let yourself do “nothing” often leads to creative breakthroughs.

The Best Way to Waste Time

Writers need to find ways to rest in motion, like a person lying in a boat that floating downriver. You’ll find your own favorite forms of “time wasting” when you give yourself permission.

Process – my term for “doing nothing in a playful and creative kind of way” – is the first of three habits I recommend for all writers. Read more here or here in Chapter 3 of AWB.

Give yourself plenty of options and variety for Process. Lately, I’ve been playing with mini-puzzles that I can put together in an evening or two. I also make collages, color, mess around with an African thumb piano my niece gave me, doodle, and play in other frivolous ways.  My only regret is all the time I wasted not knowing how to waste time.

How do you goof off and play? What are your creative ways to waste time?

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