Busy doing nothing
ABIGAIL Bosanko woke up in the middle of the night. It was 3:30am. The novelist had been suffering from writer’s block all day and now the sentences of the next chapter of her book were running through her mind at a rapid rate.
She spent the next morning scribbling frantically at her kitchen table, noting down the dialogue that had popped into her head the night before.
It is not uncommon for Bosanko to be woken up by these eureka moments. "I have learned to trust my subconscious," says the author of the novel Lazy Ways to Make a Living.
"Whenever I am stuck with a chapter I will go and have a nap or get an early bed. More often than not inspiration will arrive just as I am falling asleep, or as I am waking up, in that moment between dreaming and waking when I am not quite alert. It is a time when a lot of creative people get their inspiration."
Many writers can recount similar instances when inspiration has hit only once they had given up staring at a blank page. Lewis Carroll’s famous nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark is said to have come from one line that popped into his head whilst he was out walking; and author Marian Keyes makes her bed her office when working on a book.
But when was the last time you lay in bed all day? Indolence, or slothful behaviour, is not generally regarded as a positive attribute. Clutching on to the Calvinist work ethic we feel guilty if we are not on the go 12 hours a day and consider lounging around to be nothing more than a waste of time.
We couldn’t be more wrong. Bosanko believes that lazy periods in our day allows all our thoughts to percolate in our heads. Eventually they will filter through to our consciousness and result in a problem solved, or a chapter written. "I think everyone needs staring into space time because original ideas will come to you in moments when your brain is in neutral. You could be out walking, gardening, doing the washing up or just sitting relaxing."
In John Briggs’ book Fire In The Crucible: Understanding the Process of Creative Genius he found that the world’s most creative geniuses, including Einstein, spent large amounts of time doing nothing. He says that far from aggressively concentrating on a problem day and night until they found an answer, the solution would arrive in the moments in between thoughts - the state of creative indolence.
Gerry Farrell, creative director at the advertising firm The Leith Agency, says it is widely acknowledged in the advertising industry that the creative juices flow best when you are away from your desk. "Whenever I think some one is struggling to come up with an idea I tell them to go take a walk or hop on a bus. I have also joined the workforce up to The Scotch Malt Whisky Society so they can go and relax in leather armchairs and drink coffee until they come up with something." This approach obviously works. Farrell and his team have as a result come up with the award winning Iron Bru adverts as well as running high profile campaigns for Grolsch and Carling. He admits that some of his best ideas for these campaigns have come when he was unloading the dishwasher at home or in the car. "My creative energy is really good in the morning. Often I have taken a problem home the night before and mulled it over in my head. As a result if I turn the radio off and concentrate whilst I am driving into work the following morning I can usually come up with a good idea within fifteen minutes."
Although their is no conclusive evidence as to how creative indolence works, psychologists do recognise this process. Dr Nigel King is a psychologist at Huddersfield University and has found that creativity is a social phenomenon, arising from our interactions with the outside world. "Creative breakthroughs tend to happen when your brain is engaged in something off the task or just resting. Some psychologists think that there is a special mental process of thought incubation that goes on. Once you have worked at an idea and put a lot of conscious thought into it, the subconscious part of your brain then needs to be employed. If you go out for a walk, or step away from your desk, this part of the brain will be stimulated.
"It is important that our subconscious brain be allowed to make connections between the problem that you are trying to solve and other problems that you come across. Scientists or engineers for example might be inspired by something they see in nature and make a connection between the outside world and the task at hand."
Like Newton and the apple, Archimedes and the overflowing bath, we can all have these moments where metaphorical thinking can lead to clarity. The metaphor can bypass the rational side of our brains and stimulate lateral thinking. In this way a gateway is opened between the logical left side of our brain which can process the creative thoughts of the right side. You can’t just leave all the work for your subconscious however. It is important to have engaged your conscious brain fully first.
Farrell says that in advertising the winning idea is often the result of a two step mental process. "A lot of writers will cram their brains with factual and visual information - like force feeding themselves (the plant growth product) Baby Bio for the brain, and then leave their desk to let ideas emerge."
This process works best when a deadline is looming. "It is certainly true that necessity is the mother of all invention," says King. We are not all going to come up with revolutionary ideas by lounging on Chaise Longues and smoking menthol cigarettes all day.
"We need the pressure of time to force us to come up with an answer. By putting the task to one side and alleviating the pressure at times we can achieve creative thought. This might look like indolence but it is when our most inspired moments can occur."
Bosanko agrees. "Creative indolence is very good for you so I think we should all pencil in some lazy time into our diaries," says Bosanko, whose most recent novel is A Nice Girl Like Me. "If you are waiting a moment of inspiration just relax and trust your subconscious." So the next time you are awaiting for the bulb in your brain to illuminate try having a bath in the evening, going for a walk outside at lunchtime, or just sit and do nothing. It could be the most productive thing you do all day.
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