Wasting Time Productively

I once had a college professor who derided video games as the curse of the century and a deplorable waste of time.

Maybe he would have been surprised to know that playing video games inspired me to write all three of my novels.

The games may have appeared silly and inconsequential, yet they engaged my imagination. My creative impulse could not resist a colorful virtual playground.

Contrary to what many believe, video games did not drain my soul of poetry; they enlivened my senses; made me curious; and shifted my perspective. Games like The Legend of Zelda were more than passive diversions; they were worlds, moon-lit, snow-swept, shadowy, mysterious, magnificent places I could visit without ever leaving the house.

I suppose if video games had not existed, I still would have written novels, but they would have been different novels, and I am happy with the ones I wrote.

My experience has made me think, “Maybe I need to waste time more often.”

I have never heard another writer say that. Maybe it is because most writers think they waste enough time already, especially through a phenomenon they call procrastination.

I know this affliction well. Procrastination in writing is actually a simple problem to solve, although it took me many years to solve it. I solved it by applying the one-sentence rule.

The one-sentence rule means that all I ask of myself each day is that I write one sentence on a story, essay, or novel. Sometimes, to prove to myself I am serious, I forbid myself to write more than a sentence. There is no reason to put it off because it is so ridiculously easy. Most of the time I want to write much more than my minimum, but after my first sentence, I am free to stop. That means that after the “starting gun,” I am writing only because I choose to write.  Usually I end up writing for hours without any of the resentment I would have if I were forcing myself.

As long as I meet my minimum requirement of a sentence, I allow myself to proceed through the rest of my day without any guilt at all. I can do anything I want:  swim, draw on my balcony, play The Legend of Zelda, or read a science fiction novel without labeling any of my activities procrastination.

My problem, if anything, is that my technique works too well. Once I get started writing, I want to keep going. Stopping early leaves me unfulfilled and grumpy. The Philip K. Dick novel I have been wanting to read lies untouched, my video games stay entombed in their wrappers, my bathing suit remains dry. I am too busy to be anything but a closed system, a locked skull full of frozen memories. I look at my sketchbook and dusty box full of drawing pencils and think wistfully,  There is not enough time to waste time.

However, I am convinced that occasionally breaking up my goal-driven routines and turning myself over to the unpredictability of life is the best way to prevent my attitudes from ossifying while keeping my writing fresh.

After all, as a writer I never know, going into an experience, what is going to inspire me. I may think I know. I may think a day at the beach gazing at pretty ocean waves will send muses fluttering to my shoulder, but usually ocean-gazing only leads to writing trite poetry in my head.

Much as I hate to admit it, I am far more likely to be inspired by  a tedious confrontation with a pushy time share representative. Anger, frustration, dissatisfaction with the world as it is, and a burning sense of injustice are the uncelebrated muses of the creative world, even though I am unlikely to seek them out.

Luckily there is no need. Experiences that waste my time are everywhere. They come to me without invitation. It is up to me to see them as creative opportunities and make the most of them.

Whether I end up outraged or enchanted, “wasting time” is not really an accurate description of any activity that engages my imagination, regardless of how pointless it may appear at first glance. Maybe there is a better phrase to distinguish creativity-inducing activities from those that do nothing but deaden me and dull my thinking.

Drawing my cat may never make me any money or turn me into an accomplished artist, but it encourages me to pay close attention to the world. Real wastes of time include staring vacantly at television shows I have only a lukewarm interest in or slogging through a tedious Hollywood action film that is full of predictable explosions and characters without a pulse.

That being said, even bad movies can inspire me; one of the best parts of being a writer is that nothing you experience ever has to be meaningless. Writing encompasses everything from shooting stars to missing socks. Even the experience of boredom is fair game. You can write an entire story about it, and take on the paradoxical task of making boredom the most interesting phenomenon in the world. If you are a writer, nothing ever has to be a waste of time, not unless you let it be.


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5 thoughts on “Wasting Time Productively

  1. Once upon a time, a general observed that the same kids who struggled to concentrate in school could effortlessly concentrate for hours on video games. He wondered why. So he invented the flight simulator. THE END

  2. Another beautifully written post, Lisa, that made me think!
    You have such a gorgeous writing style!
    I used to play “Gabriel Knight” – did you ever hear of that one?
    XOXO!!!

  3. Thanks Dyane!! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! Never played Gabriel Knight, but the nerdy title sounds like something I would have enjoyed! 😉

    I love the email you sent by the way, but WOW! I had no idea what you were going through!!! I will try to write back in the next few days! I have a lot to say!

    Until I get back to you, hang in there! Thanks again for the awesome compliments!! XOXO

  4. Absolutely. I remember when it was fashionable to say that TV or movies were a waste of time, but then that’s where some damn fine storytelling and writing comes from. Soooo is it okay to get lost in a good show? The hard part comes from balancing getting stuff done with getting involved in other learning distractions like reading or video gaming. It’s important to let your mind relax and engage with other mediums and activities – but of course, I suppose you could make the arguement to hang on to what you are working on furiously. In which case, it comes down to YOU and figuring out what you need and what works.

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