Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In Praise of Boredom … and Men

A couple of months back I came across some famous writer dude’s list of ten things you need to do if you want to become a successful fiction writer. One of them was, “Don’t have kids.”

The reason for this particular line item, I suppose, is that kids are a big time-suck. OK, fair point. Still, I’m assuming that this “don’t have kids” thing was facetious, although maybe it wasn’t. If not, hmphf. Shows what he knows.

I take issue with the premise that time is strictly the problem when it comes to writing. It’s not. I agree with the competing philosophy that we always make time for the things we love, no matter how busy we are. 

No, what you really need to be creatively fruitful is this: BOREDOM.

That's right. Crushing, sigh-inducing boredom. Boredom is what lends itself to creation. Alas, I do think guys have an advantage over women in this area because, generally speaking, the male of the species is a lot better at being creatively bored than women are.

Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

Long ago when I was in college, I had this guy friend who decided to take the obligatory trip to Florida for Spring Break because as we all know, it’s every young man’s dream to make that pilgrimage to Florida with a bunch of friends and cram into a cheap motel room for a week, partying the days away in a blur of bikinis and beer.

Unfortunately things did not go to plan. Oh, dear me, no. When my friend and his buddies arrived in Florida, they discovered that their motel room was super skeevy, miles from the actual beach, and it rained buckets for almost the entire time they were there. Also? That bevy of hot chicks that's allegedly a permanent fixture during Spring Break, almost as if the Ft. Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce employs them to hang out in order to boost tourism? Nowhere to be found. Like, there was not one girl for miles.

What’s a group of bored young men to do in this situation?

Well, here’s what they did. They went to the grocery store and bought a sack of onions.

They took the onions, peeled and cut them, and put them in a big green garbage bag, creating a game wherein the guys would take turns sticking their heads in the onion-filled garbage bag– eyes wide open, mind you –and whoever could keep his head in the bag the longest, won. Won what? I don’t know. Honor? Does it really matter? They came up with possibly the stupidest way to amuse themselves over Spring Break that any group of human males has ever invented.

Now, this onion-bag game is the reason I love guys. Needless to say, a group of women/girls in like situation would never have done this. And I’m not saying that’s good or bad. It’s just men -- they’re different, and God love ‘em for it. They’re just better at doing something creative with their boredom than women are.

Anyway, truly, when I look back on my twenties and wonder what spurred my creativity, I think of how TOTALLY UNUTTERABLY BORED I was with all aspects of my professional life. At the time, however, I didn't fully appreciate the many benefits of my boredom. I really believed there was something terribly wrong with me that I would sit at my desk all day, at what was really an excellent job in a lot of ways, screwing around and secretly writing a novel on company time instead of performing any of the serious duties I was getting paid to perform.  But now I wouldn’t change a thing. I owe a lot to my boredom. I really do.

So this is my advice to you if you’re just getting going with your writing: protect your boredom at all costs. It’s one of your most precious resources. Take it and run with it without apology. Be frivolous and wasteful and if you have time-- and even if you don't --occasionally stick your head into a sack of onions to see how long you can stand it.

Let’s face it, without boredom we writers might otherwise be engaged in meaningful activities. Like actually contributing to society or doing something similarly awful. Good God. What a frightening thought.