Ever needed a good idea for a story and felt completely stumped? You know the feeling, that agonizing hum of dead air between the ears when you most need inspiration? If you’re a writer, this happens to you sometimes. There are lots of ways to jumpstart your idea factory (I’ve written about some here and here and even a few weeks ago, here), but there was one thing I’d neglected to try.
Yep, good, old fashioned, bored-out-of-my-gourd tedium–the kind you may have experienced as a kid sitting at the grownups’ table. I say “may have” because if you’re young enough, you probably had an electronic device that countered any hint of lassitude — and possibly a good idea or two as well.
If you were lucky, as I was, to be born straddling the line between analog and digital worlds, then you had plenty of time to experience soul-sucking boredom. Doctors’ visits, grocery shopping with your mother, and (dare I say it) church services. During interminable drives to some unappreciated event, I’d look at the car window and imagine the other cars as horses in a race with ours. Ours was white with a black hard top — a beautiful steed. Or, I’d gaze up at the clots of cottony cumulonimbus and see what I could make of them. Sometimes, I’d have a good idea for a story, because even then I was a writer.
Then I grew up. I got an iPhone. An iPad. A computer. I have apps, games, and unlimited data — boredom doesn’t stand a chance. Unless, of course, I forget to take my digital nanny with me as I did last week.
I was invited to one of those long, dull, speech-giving, ceremony-having kind of events with lots of downtime between speakers. Out of politeness, I accepted, even though I didn’t know a single person there. I had a plan. I’d just mess with my phone during lulls. I got there on time, settled into a far corner, and waited for the evening to commence. Within minutes, tired of people-watching, I decided to check the news. In a moment the terrible truth dawned on me. Somehow, inexplicably, I’d left at home the one item that was as much a part of my daily outfit as shoes and underwear.
Not a good idea, I thought to myself as I slumped lower in the velvety grip of the auditorium chair. I sighed and stared at the ceiling, noticing the ceiling lights in their neat furrows. That wasn’t interesting. I gazed out at the night through the only window, watching the telephone lines holding back the encroaching roadside woods like velvet ropes at a nightclub. A coincidental line of red cars drove past slowly, like engine-stoked corpuscles meandering through a vein. Behind them, a sleek dark coupe with blacked-out windows followed, nose-to-tail with the last car.
I startled myself out of my reverie. I just had an idea for a story. Not just a good idea — a great one. I looked around to see if anyone noticed, but they were all sunk in their digital domains or chatting lightly with neighbors. I relaxed back into my slump and let boredom overtake me again. Three fully-fledged story ideas danced in my head by the end of the evening. Thank goodness I had a napkin and a pen in the car so I could write them down before I forgot them.
The moral of this story is that boredom is okay. In fact, it’s a good idea. I’ve found tapping back into that childhood fount of creativity produces more and better ideas than I’ve had in a long while. I still get inspiration online and from audiobooks and other sources, but I don’t rely upon it any longer.
Plus, I no longer dread those occasional device-less moments. In fact, I intentionally strand myself electronically at times when I’m feeling low on creativity to get back in the flow.
I challenge you to give boredom a try — it just might be the beginning of a beautiful new relationship with your creative self.
See you on the next page!