• What’s Your “Sad Waste of Brains”?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Finding Time to Write     Comments 8 comments

    Last week at the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh an object and placard in the Sir Walter Scott section caught my eye: It was a chess set that belonged to Scott, and the accompanying text described the author’s view on chess.

    In essence, he understood the appeal of the game (he’d played it often as a young man), but why, he wondered, would someone spend so much time studying and practicing and playing it when he or she could use that time to instead learn a new language?

    Surely,” he said, “chess-playing is a sad waste of brains.”

    Good thing he didn’t live to see Hungry Hungry Hippos.




    Occasionally I’d play chess with my dad when I was a teen. He beat me every single time. Despite that, I’m not sure I would trade those games — the memories of the experience — for fluency in another language.

    Maybe I would. I dunno. It would’ve been nice to win a game.

    Some might say chess is its own language, anyway. Language is, in large part, about communication: Two chess players who don’t speak the same language can still communicate through the game.

    But the point is, Scott prioritized intellectual pursuits over such diversions.




    Don’t worry, this isn’t a rant about how I think we’re all watching too much TV.

    Most of us engage in our share of leisure activities, and they help keep us sane. I don’t know much about Sir Walter Scott. I’ve never even read one of his books. But I imagine he had his amusements and diversions. Surely he didn’t spend all of his non-writing time learning Igbo.

    And then practicing it with his dog, seen in the portrait on the right. Was petting the dog a sad waste of brains?

    I watch plenty of TV and movies. I occasionally play some nostalgic Nintendo. I’m on a summer and a fall baseball team. Every now and then I’ll put together a jigsaw puzzle. And I spend hours every week playing with, and annoying the hell out of, our dog. Who is much cuter than Walter’s.

    Are any of these “a sad waste of brains”?

    I wish I spoke more languages. I have justenough Spanish to get by, and often it feels like I have just enough English to get by.

    And I could easily study a new language — if I made it a priority.

    But I don’t. And that’s OK!




    Still, I sometimes wonder if I spend too much time on the above amusements. We all need to find our own definition of “too much.”

    These days, my saddest waste of brains is social media, particularly Twitter. I find myself almost compulsively updating my streams, and usually I log off feeling worse than when I logged on.

    (N.B. I am not saying social media is a waste of brains or time. I’m referring only to how I use it, and how I feel about how I use it.)

    If I deleted (for like the eighth time) my Twitter app it would doubtless free up a couple of, even a few, hours a week.

    And if I replaced that app with the Portuguese version of DuoLingo, I could begin to prepare for the trip we may take to Lisbon in 2018.

    I just might do that.

    But don’t go getting a swelled head, Sir Walter; I won’t be doing it for you. In fact, as soon as I publish this post I’m going to play a few games of computer chess.




    Your turn: What do you do that Walter Scott might call a “sad waste of brains?” Do you think it is? If you were to give that thing up, what would you do instead?

    I guess the real question is: Are you happy with the balance you’ve struck between leisure and work and writing and life? If not, what would you like to change?

    Let us know in the comments!


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

    0 0 votes
    Article Rating
    Notify of

    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments

    My sad waste of brains: coming up withinexcusable excuses for not doing the things I know I should be doing. That and watching endlessly repetitive, depressing, angry-making TV news panel discussions in a pointless effort to be “informed”.

    David Duhr

    Thanks for sharing, Patricia. This is exactly my problem with how I use Twitter; I almost never interact with anyone or post anything… I just read what other people are talking about — mostly the political stuff these days — and I follow links to stories, and then I try to read those same stories from the other side, for balance, etc., and when I look up, three hours have gone by.

    So if you drop these things, how will you use that new free time?

    Barbara A Mealer

    Mine is the X-Factor and The Voice. I love them. At this time of year, it is sappy Christmas movies. I use the time to make things for Christmas, so it isn’t a total waste of time, just brains. What I do is to ensure I’ve done at least a 1k words for the day, then I can do what I want if I don’t want to continue to write. I usually do more, but that is my choice. Writing is like and addiction for me, I can’t stop. Everyone needs down time. I have found that organizing my time… Read more »

    David Duhr

    I guess my take is that “sad” is the key word: Like you say, everyone needs down time. And if you enjoy spending that down time watching those shows, then maybe it’s not a waste? But if you engage in such activities but don’t enjoy them, that’s when it might be time to change some things.

    Anyway, you always strike me as someone who’s happy with the balance she’s struck, which is the most essential thing.

    Thanks, Barbara!

    Elizabeth Westra

    My waste of brain is watching TV at night and reading mysteries. There are also the endless errands that I go on with my retired husband that I don’t really need or want to go on. He likes company, but I need alone time to write. I hope we can work something out to keep us both happy.

    David Duhr

    Hi Elizabeth; thanks for stopping by and sharing.

    The question is, do these activities bother you, make you feel guilty, make you feel like you’re wasting time? i.e., do you not enjoy them? If so, maybe it’s worth thinking about making a change. But if you enjoy those shows and mysteries, but still get done the other things you want to get done, then I guess where’s the harm?

    Eleanor Gamarsh

    I’m such a blabber mouth on the keyboard i couldn’t help adding my 2 cents worth on this subject. I am the inadvertently designated declutterer in our home. Now if sorting and sorting mail, magazines, a week’s worth of newspaper, and such isn’t a ‘sad waste of brainpower’, I don’t know what else it could be for me. This does qualify as a job I hate, well, maybe too strong. But at least dislike a lot. That’s why the piles happen. I don’t want to be the one to decide what to do with the stuff all the time. But… Read more »

    Eleanor Gamarsh

    I was looking for some comment from you. I am disappointed to find nothing.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x