Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mindless Tasks

I used to loathe mindless tasks.  Mindless tasks used to drive me insane and were a waste of what priceless little free time I had.  I would do whatever I could to make those tasks vanish so I could get to the really important things.  Mainly I wanted to spend my time playing the latest version of Resident Evil, or watching cartoons, or drinking beer with friends.  But then came the love of writing. 

I’ve already detailed how I rearranged my life to accommodate writing (here), but I found that I wanted to spend that time actually writing and not sitting staring at a blank screen.  To do this, I need ideas.  I need something, anything, to begin constructing the bridges between characters and story, but a glaring white screen is disheartening and gets me nowhere.  Here I’ve gone to the trouble of upending my life to create this priceless daily pocket of an hour or two to work on what matters most, and I am stuck trying to unearth why a character is standing in a shipping yard.  Then life rolls in, and the window of time ends with little progress on any front.

I already knew what I loved to do, but I began to think about the things I had to do, but did not necessarily enjoy.  There was exercise, cleaning, folding laundry, dishes (the reviled instrument-of-the-devil washing and drying of the thrice damned dishes) and driving to this place or that.  These tasks had to be done, and commanded attention, but instead of listening to loud music, or Audible books or podcasts, I stopped the distractions.  The situations and characters for my first novel, the work-in-progress novel and almost every comic book script that I have ever written developed during 30-minute runs and while sitting at excessively long traffic lights.  An alien creature—it’s look, coloring, weight, body length, abilities, and weaknesses—came about during the pairing of mountains of washed socks and it served to be a companion for another character devised during the previous day’s run.

This is not to say that I don’t blare some ABBA or Judas Priest on the home stereo, or enjoy a True Blood audiobook on a long run, I only do so when I have a bank of ideas ready to go for the week ahead.  I am doubly not suggesting that doing these mindless tasks are now somehow magically enjoyable…they still suck, but these mandatory responsibilities have now become part of my creative process.  The time is there, so I might as well make it work for me so I can actually write when I am supposed to write. 

What sort of mindless tasks do you hate, but manage to work in your favor?  Let me know, I would love to hear about it.

*Disclaimer:  I do not exhibit any manner of creativity when it comes time to wash/dry dishes.  My hatred of this task is so all-consuming that I cannot work past the annoyance to wring out any sort of creativity. Dishes are an instrument of the devil...we all feel this way…right?


  1. I do the washing up all the time and sometimes ideas have come to me. So the thing is to get it OUT of my head and ONTO/INTO something - paper, audio recording, something!

    - - Luke

  2. Hey Luke, that's the best time. I've actually had to pull into a mall parking lot, and use the handy-dandy iPhone Voice Memo app to get an idea down. Nowadays, the way my mind works I need all the help I can get to prevent me from forgetting ideas as they come.

  3. I've found that since doing the dishes is such a repetitive task, I can zone out and come up with ideas in my head while doing them. I'm not a big fan of doing dishes either, but I can say that a good amount of ideas came to me while doing them. It's just about writing those ideas down when they come!