Posted in Writing

Why Boredom is a Good Thing for Writers


In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

Boredom can be a very good thing for someone in a creative jam.

It’s so hard to be bored these days. I remember as a kid being bored here and there, but today there’s not really an excuse to ever be bored. All you need to do is turn on the TV and click on one of a thousand options to watch. All you need to do is take out your phone and scroll through Facebook or Twitter.

We do everything we can to avoid boredom, don’t we? Like, any moment where there’s silence, where there’s nothing expected of us, we feel awkward. We simply need to be doing something! We can’t just possibly sit there, can we?

The truth, though, is that boredom is really good for your writing.

There’s a reason I like to go for a run almost every day. It’s not that running is boring, necessarily. I find running lots of fun, a brief window of escape from my life to get my body moving and see all the sights of my neighborhood, including some cool hidden trails and gorgeous mountains nearby.

But what running really gets me to do is leave all the screens behind so I can have forty-five minutes to completely focus on the thoughts in my head. On the ideas that might rise to the surface and inspire a new novel.

On the ways I can improve the latest novel I’m currently working on!

I can’t tell you how many problems have been fixed in my work from merely going for a run or a walk and just being a little more bored than usual. Boredom allows for great ideas to come to the surface. As hard as it may be to do in 2019, even just ten minutes of total boredom might actually bring you the immense creativity you need for your day!

Stephen King used boredom to finish his magnum opus, The Stand.

There’s a story he tells in his craft book On Writing that is one of my favorites. He had been working for months on The Stand. He had more than 500 pages of writing, so there was no possibility of abandoning the novel. But he couldn’t figure out the third act. He had built up this epic of dozens of characters and didn’t have a clue how to reach his ending.

So he talks about how he would go on walks by himself every afternoon and try to figure out what to do. The first walk didn’t work, and neither did the second.

But one day, while walking, the idea suddenly came to him out of the clear, blue sky. Pow! There it was. All from letting his mind go blank.

All from immersing himself in total boredom.

And he was so scared the idea would slip from his mind that he ran all the way home, eventually out of breath and sweating as he jotted the idea down on a piece of paper.

Boredom in this case not only helped Stephen King with a story problem, but it helped him complete one of his three greatest novels, one of my all-time favorites.

So lean into boredom. It might actually improve your writing!

When you find yourself with a free half-hour during your afternoon, don’t necessarily use that half-hour to catch up on a sitcom on the TV. Don’t use it to scroll through your phone. Don’t use it to make a second lunch if you just ate two hours before.

Sure, you can use that half-hour to read — time dedicated to reading throughout your day is always important for writers — but something else you can do, especially if you’re struggling in the first draft of a new novel, or struggling to come up with ideas for the next one, is just sit in a room, in silence, and bore yourself silly.

Just look around the room and ponder. Close your eyes. Clear your mind.

Maybe something amazing will come to you, as it has for me in the past. I know of at least five of my novel ideas that came to me when I was bored and not doing much.

Don’t be afraid of boredom, I’m telling you! You have no idea the wonders it can bring to your fiction writing.

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