I dug this up from a blog that I killed a while ago. A lot has changed in the three years since I wrote it… But the work conditions have remained broadly similar.
Still, as the Brazilians have it – ate a morte, pe forte.
This just in – apparently, boredom boosts your creativity.
According to studies conducted at the University of Central Lancashire, having a particularly boring day at work can lead to daydreaming, and daydreaming can feed your creative side.
Now, I wouldn’t say my job was boring. I just happened to be having an uncharacteristically boring day in a horribly boring week when I first became aware of that news story doing the rounds.
I agree, having a bit of boredom during your daily activities is definitely good for the old daydreaming. I can attest to this, having daydreamed all the way through my career, and also for a great deal of my education. And indeed, my life.
This shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anyone, because, duh, I’m a writer. The activity gives at least some substance to my mental wanderings. But my active imagination – this constant indulgence in forms, figures and general fantasies – also serves as an acknowledgement that my hobby is closer to the level of delusion than I should otherwise like to admit.
Bottom line, I waste a lot of time in this here head of mine.
Plots, characters, stories and basic ideas all flood through my mind when I’m at work, or doing anything which is not writing. This isn’t a good thing.
Certainly, it’s not ideal for my career. As the years go by, I have slowly begun to confront the notion that the dream – using my working day to write fiction, essays and screenplays for a living – is probably not going to happen. This “creative” time in my head could amount to a waste. Time spent on writing could have been spent building a better career, earning money, and gaining material things in the material world.
There’s a constant state of tension, here, one familiar to anyone with a creative streak; a horror at the idea of my life being sucked into ennui when I really want to write all day, and not bother with the folderol of my office-based activities.
I once imagined a brain surgeon who spends his days in the same way, wondering, just before the first incision, when he’ll ever get time to write his novel.
Punchline: “At least he was a brain surgeon to start with.”
As part of that horrific, early January week where I learned that boredom is good for me, I took myself out for walks during my lunch break. I was tired of glaring at my soup, following its bubbly orbit in the battle-scarred office microwave. The weather was benign and we also have the luxury of a nice wee path along the road near our office, with farmer’s fields in the distance. Bliss.
My feet were getting a little itchy… I’ve got athlete’s foot. But anyway, I enjoyed my walks. Each day on that damned week, I walked a little bit further out, before turning back and returning to work.
I began to imagine how things might go if I just kept walking and didn’t go back.
Just for fun, I stress. I wasn’t actually going to do it. What did you think I was, brave or something?
Every day, though, my return to the office grew that little bit later. It got so that one day, as I walked back into the room, Hatchet McBattleaxe sighed, raised both eyebrows at me, then pointedly glared at her watch. She actually did this. I suppose she was Sending A Message. A helpful nudge in the right direction. Does every office have a Hatchet McBattleaxe installed? Maybe it’s mandatory. Hey, she keeps the whole operation running, allegedly.
But back to mother nature. On my walks, I watched the birds scraping a living out of hard winter soil. I traced the frosty green lines towards the horizon, marvelling at how I have grown to love the dead flat farmlands, so different to the hilly country I grew up in. I bypassed the two workmen, pulled up by the side of the road in their transit van, both nodding in time to some music and digging into a McDonald’s takeaway bag… And hoped they weren’t sex killers. Just about every passing motorist no doubt wondered what the strange dude in a suit was doing out on the road to nowhere in the depths of winter.
I thought of Mat Craig, the hero of Archie Hind’s classic post-war Glasgow novel, Dear Green Place. Mat has a decent clerical job, but it’s killing his soul. One morning as he walks into the office, heading down the banks of the River Clyde, he just decides not to go in. He takes a turn, follows his feet, and decides the rut isn’t for him.
He never goes back. He’s finished with office life. He takes the decision to be a writer. To make the treacherous move from being a wannabe, and eschewing a place in the rat race in order to follow a near-spiritual obligation.
Like I say, I’ve got bills to pay, folks. Don’t we all?
Possibly I’m not nearly as silly as I might make out. I’ve always worked. I always will. I’ve never even remotely considered striking out alone with the writing. Even though it’s what I desperately wish to do with my life.
Perhaps abstaining in order to have a career is a form of cowardice? At any rate, I’m fortunate to even consider that a problem, these days. Joblessness struck the house I grew up in very hard indeed. Another tip of the hat to Mrs Thatcher.
Always, for the artist, there’s the not-so-fine balance between time spent turning one’s hand to practical matters and earning honest money, and the precious, finite hours spent creating your art. You’ve got to make money, so you can’t write. You’d like to write for money, but if money is your main motivation for writing – if it doesn’t come bursting out of you, to paraphrase Charles Bukowski – then you are probably destined to fail regardless. Writing is a calling, not an occupation. Even if someone pays you for it.
These are first world problems, of course. I should just take the money. You can bet I’m thankful to have work, an income, a means to pay my creditors. I can almost hear my father’s ghost bellowing at me to shut up, get my head down, and carry on.
I’ll do that. One foot in front of the other.