It’s been something of a relief to me that in recent weeks I have started to have new ideas.
It’s something of a dirty little secret but over the last twelve months I’ve really not devoted any time to this* as I wound up tying myself in knots trying to redraft The Scarred God and focussed in on trying to sail the troubled waters of Dayjob In Economic Storm. One of the things I really noticed was how time and stress impacted my ideas.
It sounds obvious…
It wasn’t a direct correllation between time and ideas. Don’t get me wrong: I work long hours (45-50 hour weeks are not unusual) but I don’t have kids and the rennovation work has abated as we are pretty close to having finished that project. It was the quality of time. What I found was that I’d be so busy thinking about work that all I would do is turn the telly on.
Signal to noise…
Worse than that. I wouldn’t even watch the telly properly. I’d be rerunning conversations, picking over mistakes, trying to find new angles to go round problems until in the end all was just noise. It didn’t even help me solve the business problems at hand as I was spending so much time thinking about them consciously that I don’t think my sub-conscious (where the real magic happens) got much of a look in.
Change is as good as a rest…
What changed was realising that I wasn’t getting anywhere on all fronts. That I needed to restructure my day to fit in the things I needed to do to get where I want both creatively and professionally. There was no way that using my brain in the way outlined above was going to get me writing again and, honestly, it wasn’t helping me move things on in other areas either.
This was a bit of a problem: Writing regularly has always helped me switch gears but in order to do it I need to have ideas and I wasn’t getting any. You can’t arrive at the desk and say: I will now produce an idea. Well, I can’t, if you can: good for you.
Dance, fool, dance…
I’ve never been one who could generate ideas on the spot if you make it overt that’s what you want. I just freeze up. My inner editor plonks himself down in the middle of the floor, on top of my muse, sticks his tongue out and says Get Knotted. I couldn’t just schedule in ideas sessions.
For me, ideas always occur while I’m reading other stuff cleaning, walking, commuting, stuff – I realised – where I was bored. Same deal with problem solving.
Still: it felt like a nasty feedback loop: need to write to relax, need ideas to write, need to relax and daydream to have ideas.
A wise man once told me…
I recall, at a writer’s event, a friend of mine asking me how it was going and my bemoaning my lack of progress. The person in question asked about my dayjob, he listened to my response and then said that it’s hard because your brain only has so much time to think about so many things. I’ve realised, finally, that there is an inherent truth in this. Moreover, that the quality of that time is important to the type of thinking you are doing. Not all thinking is equal in terms of the resources it consumes.
Problem solving, that deep down creative solutionising where the answer comes from nowhere, requires you to leave that part of your brain alone and so does ideation. It’s the same thing. It’s a hungry beast though and you can’t run it while diverting all your brain juice to taxing worry or conscious problem solving. Therefore, you must create space. Room in your day in which to be bored, to allow your brain to idle, and enough quiet for your sub-conscious – who is shy and retiring – to be heard.
It ain’t easy but…
I’ve managed to drop my stress levels through integrating exercise into my commute. This enables me on days where life gets – as it does – difficult to blow off steam in a way that isn’t dependent on much else and serves as an overflow. Exercise on it’s own isn’t enough but combined with other stuff it’s very effective.
I’ve managed to free up time be bored by putting walks into my day: I’ll volunteer to walk round to the shop, I’ll go for a short wander round SoHo on lunch (where I work, I’m not writing porn). I’ve stopped wearing headphones as much, I’ve stopped having the TV on as much and when I do it’s because I have recorded something. In short I let myself get bored.
It’s difficult these days. There’s so much cool stuff to stop us getting bored that I think we’re almost in danger of losing the ability to be bored, to daydream, it’s like we’re afraid of it. Actually, the whole idea of doing nothing has been so vilified at the moment I think some of us feel guilty if we have time to breath. This is nuts and I’m so I’ve tried to change. It seems to be working for me.
* At first this wasn’t a concern as I have a large spreadsheet full of ideas that I haven’t had time to write which is another good tip I picked up. However, after a while if you’re not playing with this writer’s equivalent of clay you forget how to see the shape of the stories hidden within and that is not a good place to be. No sir. Not good at all.