Boredom and the Working Writer

I’ve been a writer since before I can remember. My mum recently found a speech I wrote in year six in which I announced that when I grew up I was going to be an author or a poet or a journalist — I didn’t mind which, as long as I got to write. Even before year six I was writing. It was the first thing I remember being good at. It was the second thing I remember really lighting my mind on fire. The first, of course, was reading.

I have dozens of notebooks and computer files full of stories written while I was still a kid. Well, dozens of beginnings of stories. I’d start a story and the same thing would happen every time. My real life would suddenly get interesting and I would find myself less interested in living a pretend life. Because writing, for me, has always been that, first and foremost: A way to stave off boredom. A way to entertain myself when I run out of books.

The problem with this is there are always other things to keep me entertained, especially in a world of internet and Netflix and ebooks. It’s so easy to crowd your mind out with all that other stuff, and forget to fill it with your own marvelous imaginings. Of course, if you’re a writer, other people’s imaginings will never be as satisfying as your own. Eventually you will rediscover The Itch. But think of all the wasted time you spend being entertained when you could be entertaining yourself!

We recently went on holidays (that’s what we Aussies call vacation) to Queensland (which is kind of the Florida of Australia). We spent our days riding rollercoasters, or at our retreat playing with puppies, or watching movies, or playing boardgames. It was wonderful and it was exhausting and there wasn’t a moment I wasn’t entertained. I didn’t do any writing.

By the time I got home I was Itching like crazy to write again, but of course at home there are other timesucks that are less entertaining, such as work.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time fantasizing about working part time, or quitting altogether. I don’t have enough time to write! I say with frustration. Of course this is a great lie, but more than that, it ignores one of the most essential parts of my process: Boredom. I need boredom in order to write. As exhausting as full-time work can be, and as creatively unsatisfying as my current role is, it provides a huge chunk of grey time in the middle of my day. Time for ideas to percolate. Time to make me want to dream of another world, another life.

That’s why so many writers find inspiration while in the shower or while driving. It’s why some writers position their desks to face a blank wall. Creativity emerges to fill a void.

Travel is one of my favourite things in the world. I love it. I get so many ideas when I travel. My life and my stories are so much richer because of the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen. But when I’m traveling I can’t write. I’m too entertained. The writing comes later.

I’m still dreaming of a few extra hours in the day, but I’m learning to value my grey cubicle walls and my time without internet. I’m learning to nurture my own boredom in order to nurture my creativity. And if one day I do get to quit my job in order to write? MacFreedom will be my very best friend.

The view from our cabin. That's the ocean in the distance.
The view from our cabin. That’s the ocean in the distance.
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Boredom and the Working Writer

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