A Story of Me)
I never lacked for food, clothing, or shelter as a child. I never brought any complaints to my mother in those departments. What complaint I do remember bringing to her, however, was that I was bored!
“Well you have plenty of toys!” she might say.
“Yes, and I’ve played with them all.”
“I haven’t heard you practice your piano lessons yet…”
“No thank you.”
“Why don’t you read a book?”
“I’ve read books.” (To be fair, I really had. I read many, many books in my youth.)
“Well I’ve certainly got my fair share of chores that you could help me out with.”
“I said I was bored, not a masochist!”
Clearly, it was up to me to resolve this dilemma.
It was a tricky problem. For starters my family was homeschooled and insulated, so I didn’t have any friends to hang out with. We didn’t have cable or internet or video games. We did have over-the-air television and movies, but I was quickly saturated with those and still dissatisfied. And it wasn’t entertainment I wanted anyway, it was something to do.
We did have a computer, though. A Windows 95, complete with Microsoft Office. Simply because I couldn’t think of anything else to do, I gravitated towards this, and in my boredom found two great loves that have defined me ever since.
One was programming. I found how to record macros in Microsoft Excel, and I used that to start making simple point-and-click adventures. I would try to make sense of the generated code and modify it when it didn’t quite do what I wanted. I didn’t know that this “programming,” and I certainly didn’t know that you could make a living off of it. At that time it was just my own little world, and it would be years before I stepped into the wider universe of software development and made it into my career.
There was another “own little world” that I found on that computer, too. One day I opened up Microsoft Word and started writing out my first story. I got out all of four-and-a-half pages, literally could not think of a single other thing to say, so I typed THE END at the bottom.
I was hooked.
One story followed another. One about a superhero, one about a small ant, one about a group of orphaned children. Each one was longer than the one previous: ten pages, fifteen, twenty.
Finally, when I was about twelve, I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. From that point on everything I wrote was a fantasy. I scaled my writing up to an epic novel in five parts which totaled over 100,000 words. My next work was the only hand-written piece I’ve ever done, and it was over 300 pages.
And all of this writing was done primarily on days when I was bored. Eventually I got a job and went to college, and for a time was too busy for the writing. But thanks to the days of boredom, I had found the things that I loved to do, and I always knew that I would return to them eventually.
Boredom: The Sequel)
Nowadays, I am not nearly so bored. Of course there are the occasional moments of lethargic indifference, where nothing sounds interesting to me. And there are the brief stretches of time where I have to impatiently wait for something. But by and large boredom is not a way of life anymore.
And that’s alright, because I already have my passions to follow. So now boredom serves a new purpose. I don’t use it to seek out what vocation speaks to me, I use it to know when I’m doing a good job in that vocation. For example, when I’m writing a story and I start to get bored with it, I know it means that I’m leading the story down the wrong path.
Think of a story as a journey, one where you are willing to arrive at any destination, so long as it is an interesting one. With parameters that wide, you could take this journey in any manner of different directions. But of course, not all of those paths are going to be as fruitful. In this journey there are treacherous routes you need to avoid altogether. You certainly don’t want to get stuck in the bogs of inaction, or tangled in the doldrum forests, or lost in the mazes of irrelevant plot.
Each of these slows your progress, and some can even bring you to a complete stop. I know this firsthand.
Because for all the stories I mentioned up above, the ones that I completed in my teenage years, there were just as many that I only partially wrote. They were tales that I began with great excitement, but which somewhere along the way found unbearable to continue.
At the time I didn’t understand why I couldn’t finish those projects, why my stamina ran out on some stories but not on others. As I’ve gone back and read over the unfinished drafts, though, I’ve realized that I always quit right when I hit the boring parts.
It is barely tolerable to sit through the boring scenes as a reader, but it is all the more unlikely to power through them as the author.
In the course of writing this blog I have run into this same conundrum again. I had multiple instances where I dreaded continuing with my current story, and fortunately I realized that it was not an option to just force my way through. If I did that, then I would deliver stories that I hated and my readers would be bored out of their minds by, and eventually I would stop writing them altogether.
So instead I have learned to recognize that dread of writing for what it is: my journey has wandered into one of those paths of boredom. And when I realize this I say “Oh, looks like I found the wrong path. I really had meant to go down this way, but it’s better to give up those expectations than kill the whole thing.”
Then I delete the last few paragraphs–take a few steps back on the path–until I reach the junction where I turned into the troublesome area, and look for another way forward. And you know what? I’ve always been able to find one.
A Non-Boring End)
So here I am, writing stories that I truly enjoy, and I owe it all to boredom. Boredom led me to discover story-telling in the first place, and boredom showed up again just last week to save me from writing a lifeless exchange in my most recent story.
My first draft of the boys discovering the stranger had been platonic and rigid and unbearable to write. Thanks to boredom, that scene now features a freakish woman whose face has been turned to stone and a guard who wields a shotgun-crossbow. You’re welcome!
Come back on Thursday to see how that story progresses. I promise I will have course-corrected any time it started to stray towards boredom!