There was a recent study about boredom, and I couldn’t help but notice that once again the basic attitude seemed to be that this is a bad thing. People have no patience whatsoever for boredom.
Which is sad, I think. In fact, I have such an appreciation for boredom that I made it the subject of an entire chapter of my latest book, The Color of Your Dreams.
This book was written to help people who want to get published but perhaps lack the confidence it takes to get their words out there. It’s not a “how to write” book, but rather a “get off your butt” book.
But chapter 12 is all about boredom, and how we should embrace it, especially if we want to tap into our creativity. Here’s a free excerpt from The Color of Your Dreams featuring that chapter. If you’d like to dive into the entire book - or hopefully share it with friends, maybe as a holiday gift - you can find it at Amazon, or right here on my site.
WARNING: There is language that may offend. This book is not for kids.
People are often surprised to learn that I’m an introvert. “But you’re a morning radio show host,” they say. “How can you possibly be an introvert?”
I like to say I’m an introvert who pretends to be an extrovert. That approach serves me well in a professional sense. I can fake it. Besides, radio is my escape. We all need one, and those four hours in the studio provide mine.
A poll of my fellow seventh-grade students would likely have declared me the least likely to do anything in show business, which is what good morning radio is. We associate entertainers with an outgoing personality, people who crave the spotlight. But I was a shy kid, often almost painfully so. My sister made friends in a heartbeat, while I hung back, observing. So I spent a lot of time alone with my own thoughts.
This isn’t a plea for sympathy. Quite the contrary. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing, because this solitary stretch seeded my creative field.
Okay, so it sounds like confected crap, but I’m convinced my background contributed to my writing, and in a big way. Because as a kid I learned how to be bored. And that, in turn, fired up my creativity.
This chapter is an ode to the beauty of boredom. As a writer, especially a writer who may often feel stymied by the challenges of producing a finished product and getting it to market, boredom not only is your friend, but possibly your savior.
For whatever reason, people are enamored with the genesis of story ideas. Every author who’s ever published a story has fielded the question, “Where did you get the idea?” This assumes that stories are born in some abstract, faintly-mystical zone, one that’s accessible only by a select few.
The truth is much less romantic. Stories are born from boredom.
When did boredom become such a wicked thing? Why do we work so hard to eliminate even the chance of being bored? And what do we have to do to convince people to stop fighting it and actually embrace boredom?
The antidote, we tend to believe, is some form of distraction. And holy shit, the distraction industry is worth billions and billions of dollars. (See earlier chapter.) There are entire industries built around the task of occupying your poor, starving mind, the one that must have something to occupy it.
You pay people to distract you, often so you won’t be—gasp!—bored. But if you have dreams of becoming a published author, it would be wise to shift that thinking. Boredom, you see, is the breeding ground for bestsellers.
Today, we don’t allow ourselves to be bored. Between streaming TV, social media, YouTube, and the ever-present phone, there’s an endless stream of noise and pictures assaulting us. Ever watch people when they get into an elevator? Heaven forbid we stand still for twenty-three seconds without pulling out our digital babysitter.
Continually shoving prefabricated bullshit content into your head doesn’t leave any room to develop your own creativity. And the people who sell that content wouldn’t have it any other way.
I grew up in a fortunate time for stimulating creativity. Without access to anything digital, I spent countless hours outside, playing and exploring, allowing my introverted mind to fill in a lot of gaps. By nature we fill in these gaps with fantasies, creating scenarios and adventures, big and small, that entertain us and sharpen our senses.
What about you? You’re reading this because you likely have a desire to create words and then distribute those words to the world. How much room are you leaving for daydreaming, for speculating, for mindlessly wandering?
Are you filling your spare time—whatever that is for you—with someone else’s content? Are you allowing your senses to absorb every nuance around you?
There’s not a day in the year where I don’t invest at least one hour outside, walking through the park nearby. Sometimes I’ll listen to a podcast or an audiobook. But most of the time it’s quiet, only the breeze and the wildlife touching my senses. No artificial sounds whatsoever.
And my mind goes hog wild. You have no idea how many story ideas, blog post ideas, and general publishing ideas have sprung from those walks. My phone’s note section is crammed with these thoughts. Sometimes I’ll quickly type them into a folder, or I’ll record a voice-note while walking. Then the phone is stored again and the slate is once again blank. Most people would describe that hour as boring. It’s not. It’s magical.
When it came time to edit this chapter, I stumbled onto an idea. What if I considered not only my bibliography of completed books, but also scanned the files of story ideas I’ve kept for years. How many of them, I wondered, can pinpoint their genesis to an event that happened in the midst of people and activity, versus those that leapt from my bored mind?
Of the nine novels I’ve published, two of them can trace an origin to a discussion or interaction with someone. The other seven were all born alone.
My first collection of short fiction has six entries. Five of the six were boredom-induced. One came from a happy hour outing.
A three-book young adult mystery series has two finished manuscripts and one partial. All three came about because of hikes. Even if I was hiking with another person, I didn’t discuss the books. They evolved during quiet time in nature.
Suggestions for a follow-up series to my Galahad books came from emails and book-signing encounters with readers. So those go in the non-bored column.
But nine other novel and short story ideas—the ones that have lengthy notes in my computer—grew from solitude.
That’s twenty-eight stories (novels and short fiction). Four of them owe their inspiration to people and sound. That’s fourteen percent. The other eighty-six percent—in other words, the vast majority—would never have happened if it wasn’t for boredom.
Stop fearing the boredom beast. A mind that doesn’t have shit pumped into it must find something to focus upon, and that’s where creativity blooms. When you find yourself with downtime—even if it’s just your commute to and from work—embrace it, don’t shun it. Ignore your digital devices. When you have an opportunity to get outside, especially away from traffic, grab it. Treasure it.
If you want to create interesting stories, and if you’re serious about seeing them through to publication, I urge you to shut out all of the artificial stimuli and immerse yourself in quiet. Be bored. And be bored for long stretches, not just four minutes.
It’s difficult to fill a container that’s already full.