Wit and wisdom for wordsmiths

The shocking, unknown secret of creativity

creativity The shocking, unknown secret of creativity

Creativity
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‘If you resolve to give up smoking, drinking and loving you don’t actually live longer, it just seems longer.’

Clement Freud

Sometime today you’re going to get bored. And it won’t be pretty.

You’re going to feel foggy. Anxious. Even scared.

When we’re bored the clock doesn’t  move. We feel trapped. We’ll do anything to get un-bored.

We eat.

We Tweet.

We text.

We turn on iTunes or watch mindless TV.

We have sex. (Okay,  that one’s good.)

In short, we find boredom so uncomfortable we’ll look for anything to keep from going nuts.

Erich Fromm, who noted that man is the only animal that can be bored, called boredom “perhaps the most important source of aggression and destructiveness.”

Maybe that’s why the other big alternative to being bored is drinking- a hazard to which writers seem especially prone.

How especially prone?

Well, of America’s seven Nobel laureates, five were lushes. Not to mention lesser scribblers like Hunter Thompson, Stephen King, Kingsley Amis, John Cheever, Jack Kerouac, and a hundred more.

There’s even a book of writers’ drink recipes, including Hemingway’s Mojito, Faulkner’s mint juleps and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s gin.

But  — and this is huge — there’s another way.  A way so surprising it’s never mentioned.

And that is to sink into boredom for a while. Because if you let it, boredom can be  a wellspring of creativity.  

Like the dreamer’s brain, the bored brain is anything but quiet. Circuits fire and different parts of the cortex link up as it wages an all-out battle to be productive. It remembers. It daydreams. It time travels. It plots. It creates scenarios.

Most important, it forms new connections.

Because the bored brain imagines what could be, boredom becomes not just the precursor to creativity but essential to it.  When people are bored they look for changes to the way things are, and the way they’ve been done a thousand times before.

Which is why the answer to boredom is NOT distraction. 

It’s to live with the boredom long enough to let the brain create new ideas – ideas that can take flight.  

Need convincing? Take a look at Boredom: A Lively History

In it, author Peter Toohey describes 3,000 years of humans coping with boredom, from Australian Aborigines, to Romans, to today’s artists. The audience for the book, says Amazon.com,  is “anyone interested in what goes on when nothing happens.”

What do you think? Can you see yourself sinking into boredom for a while to come up with creative ideas?

Comment below.

5 Responses to The shocking, unknown secret of creativity

  1. Evelyn says:

    Jean, I see boredom turn to creativity every time I tell my daughter that her screen time has ended. She used to whine about being bored when there was no more homework to do, but after several iterations of “write a letter, read a book, call your grandparents, do an art project”, she stopped asking me for suggestions and now goes directly to the art projects!

  2. Jean Gogolin says:

    Hi Edith,
    You were clearly very smart to figure out that boredom leads to creativity. Some of us go through our whole lives not knowing that!
    Jean

  3. Jean Gogolin says:

    Hi Deborah,
    Yours is a very thoughtful response. Erich Fromm said humans are the only animal that experiences boredom, but obviously we don’t know that for sure. (One friend told me Fromm obviously didn’t know his dog!) But you’re right about the point I was trying to make.
    Thanks for responding.
    Jean

  4. Edith says:

    It’s true, it’s true! I always used to tell my children that boredom led to creativity and though they looked at me askance, after a short time they always found something creative to alleviate their boredom. In terms of writing….heck I’m so busy I don’t have time to be bored…or maybe my boredom finally gave birth to so many ideas that life just ain’t long enough for me to do them all!! Great post! [So nice to be confirmed!]
    Edith recently posted..A NaNoWriMo Miscelleny

  5. Deborah says:

    When reading that humans are the only animals that get bored, I thought: but won’t any animal respond with some kind of anxiety behavior when trapped or confined — and is boredom for us a a kind of trap or confine … because boredom happens only when we’re not interacting with something outside ourselves, no?

    So the experience of boredom is of being left alone with ourselves. Or trapped alone with ourselves.

    Then I wondered if boredom is an excuse we make to ourselves for avoidance.

    Then I read the end of the blog … and see you’re making a point that the courage to BE trapped alone in a body with only ourselves may be a stellar way to find what’s below our own surface.

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