On Wasting Time, Profitably

Yesterday I played approximately 43 games of Spider Solitaire.  I hate the 4 pack version, because I never win, so I play the 2 pack version.  I came out maybe half a dozen times, but sometimes I didn’t even bother to finish the game.  I just played two or three hands, then Minimised, then started another game, then Minimised, and then at bedtime I switched the computer off and all the unfinished games were swept away like litter in the Queen’s bedroom. 

This was a dreadful waste of my time. I used to play Freecell, till I deleted it from my computer; but Spider Solitaire has me even more firmly in its grip. The trouble is, I don’t even enjoy it. I take no pleasure in ‘winning’.  It’s a really dumb game, in my view.  But it’s something to do in order to avoid doing something useful. 

This is an occupational hazard for writers.  We’re always looking for reasons to avoid work. Some writers, I gather, hoover and tidy up to avoid working.  This is an endearing habit, though I do feel, in all honesty, and in a spirit of due decorum and respect, that such people are STUPID! I mean!!!  If you’re tidying up, you’re not wasting time, you’re doing something useful.  And if you’re going to be doing something useful, you might as well be writing.

This is why my study is a place of squalor, full of empty cardboard boxes that used to hold typing paper, and scripts, and boxing gloves (!?) and, oddly enough, now I come to look around,  several teddy bears and a yellow haired doll. (Where did they come from?)

At one stage,  to avoid wasting so much time, I bought a keyboard and spent my ‘time-wasting-time’ learning to play piano, badly.  Those were the good old days, before Spider Solitaire, and before I started clicking Send/Receive on my Outlook Express every three seconds, for minutes at a time, just to be able to catch any emails in mid-flight. Click. Click. Click. Clic

But I have a potential cure for my timewastingitis, which I recently stumbled across while researching science sites for previous blogs.  I came across a site called Astronomy Picture of the Day, which I’ve now added to my links. There it is – just to the right of me, on the blogroll – just start at John Jarrold, scroll up past Fictionbitch, and you’ll find it under ‘A’.  And it’s a great way of wasting time!  Every morning I click on the site, and see the photo of the day (today it’s a bizarre time-delay photo of the moon from the South Pole.)  Every photograph has a text, and the text is full of links to other photos and articles.  Yesterday I read a detailed account of red-shift of which I understood not one word, but at least I wasn’t playing Spider Solitaire.

The reason for reading the science sites was to explore (for a future blog, I hope) the role of science in science fiction.  In particular, I’m interested in the difference between ‘hard’ SF and so-called ‘soft’ SF.  What actually is the difference?  Is it to do with how many facts about science the novel contains? Or is it a philosophical distinction, a question of style and approach? Is The Man in the High Castle soft or hard SF?  Alternative universes are a staple idea of hard SF, both now and when the book was written; but does it count if the novel doesn’t cite its sources?

Anyway, that’s a meditation for another day.  But in the first instance, my Science jag has prompted me to find a great way of killing those long, dreary, bored moments in between sentences and words of the commissioned work in progress.  Instead of doing anything useful, I can just look at photographs, and marvel, and click links, and marvel a bit more, and click, marvel, click, marvel, click, until my agent finally phones me up and tells me to get off my arse and do some proper work….

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