That old Protestant Work Ethic (PWE). Many of us were brought up under it, had it instilled in us, woven into the very fabric of our beings.
We found this at home, at work, even in our places of worship.
“Idle hands are the Devil’s Workshop,” was seared into our brains.
We did a lot growing up. My dad worked long, hard hours, and so did my mom. And so did we. In addition to school and chores at home, we swam competitively (2-a-day workouts), and ran a swim school in our backyard. Sometimes it’s hard to remember when we slept!
Yes, the PWE serves you well. Hard work does pay off. And while that’s a great thing when you’re focused on a goal, it can just become about the work itself if you’re not careful, rather than the gain.
Sounds paradoxical, no? But sometimes you’re running so hard you just churn into a big vat of butter like Little Black Sambo. A book that of course has fallen out of favor for its stark racist overtones. But sometimes when you’re running so hard, you can’t begin to see the forest for the trees.
When I started my editorial business over 25 years ago, I followed the advice of Ted Turner: “Advertise and work like hell.” I figured if it worked for Ted, then it should sure work for me.
And it did. My business grew and prospered. The success of my editorial clients is just huge! (50+ books sold to traditional publishers.) I am so proud of them all.
But what happened along that road was that my own writing suffered. Because not only did I not have the time to write, I didn’t have the space in my brain for creativity to blossom. Writing fiction requires it. I learned to really write fiction 30 years ago while living on the farm, having farm chores of course but those didn’t fill up a day, and with the peace and quiet to let creativity bubble up from the deepest resources of the subconscious mind.
That’s where the muse lives. Whether in writing or painting or making music, the voice of the muse is never, ever the loudest. She doesn’t compete with all that outside noise. The best you might get from her during crazy times is a soft whisper on the wind, which if you haven’t slowed down at least some you’ll miss anyway.
It took me a while to realize where I went off track, but realize it finally I did. I loved Dr. Deepak Chopra’s mantra of: “Do less, accomplish more.” But it puzzled me. I didn’t really have a place to put that in a being filled with that old PWE. I mean, how could this possibly be?
So I’ve chewed on it for a very long time, and as with anything you stick to, understanding dawns. Sometimes in pieces, sometimes in chunks. Sometimes it’s a brick falling on the old noggin.
Many studies have shown that boredom spurs on creativity. They often disagree as to why (conclusions), but the results all point to the same thing. And when science backs up spirituality, well, it always tweaks me 🙂
Which circles me back to my stint on the farm. I had just enough work to keep me half-time busy, didn’t see people a lot, which left a vast ocean of quiet for creativity to percolate in my mind. Peace thrives there. And yes, boredom would arise. And my creativity would surge.
Yep, I got away from that. And hey, a girl’s gotta make a living, so I’m not in any way sorry for this time of just crazy work schedules, and building my business. If that were my main goal, no problem would exist.
But, it’s not. My main goal is writing stories.
So I’ve switched my life around again. And now I can find those pockets of boredom, which quiet my mind, and the peace that comes with that, and again I’m writing.
For you, what does peace mean? Where do you find it? Try doing less and see if it doesn’t come, unbidden.
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.