Anna Quindlen recently wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Agony of Writing.” In it she admits a number of things including that she hates to write, her effective writing times are between 9 and 3, and she always stops writing mid-sentence. She surmises that the easiest way to begin writing the following day is to simply finish that sentence. Hmmm.
Those things were all interesting, but here’s the part of the column that really caught my eye:
…One of the reasons I so fear the over-scheduling of today’s children is that most creative thought happens when you are staring into the middle distance, doing nothing at all.
“Inspiration comes during work, not before it,” Madeleine L’Engle once wrote, and for that to happen you must sit down in a chair. I don’t believe in writer’s block. It’s not that sometimes you can’t write, it’s that you can’t write well. Experience has told me that writing poorly sometimes leads to something better. Not writing at all leads only to reruns of “Law and Order.” Which I love, but still.
Now there’s a concept that may not be too popular in today’s culture of hyped up competition: under-schedule your children. It just might lead to higher creativity, greater art, and brilliant artists.
And this concept isn’t just for children. I can testify to the fact that when my schedule was over-busy, overcommitted, and with few cracks of time between dedicated events, my creativity was stifled. My weekly sermon-making suffered. It was like taking a pliers to a wisdom tooth in order to come up with anything even slightly creative and memorable.
Recently our singer-songwriter son, Ben, has taken to dedicating some “dead time” to writing music. He takes out his guitar, paces the floor, puts post-it notes on the wall, and delivers better songs than the ones he struggles to write in the middle of a busy week.
More than one wise person has told me that in order for regularly expected creativity to take off, I need to actually schedule “free time,” “down time,” or whatever you want to call it. That time is needed in order to process, make connections, brain storm, brain rest, or simply brain freeze, so that something new and exciting is conceived and born.
That is not to say that this scheduled down time is free and easy. It’s work time. It’s time to take your brain from point A, to point B, to point Q, and see where there might be a connection, an aha! moment, or a newly discovered “way.”
“The middle distance” (the place where you are doing nothing at all) isn’t just for children. It’s for pastors, teachers, architects, businessmen and women…anyone who needs a spark of creativity for her or his work (and don’t we all, really).
I challenge you to find “the middle distance” in your life today.
Do you believe that under-scheduling children or, for that matter, adults, will help create great art?