Boredom Is Part of the Process

A friend recently posted a question to the Facebook group dedicated to our MFA program. She was looking for guidance in the face of 20 or so unfinished stories, for advice on how to get herself to finally finish them.

Many-much good advice was given. One strand concerned the writer’s possible boredom with the stories and what that boredom might mean for their future. The suggestion was made and then echoed that perhaps the fact that she had become bored pointed to a “problem” with the content of the stories, an issue of their validity as projects to be continued. Maybe she had lost interest because they weren’t really what she should be writing. Boredom with a story is, in the estimation of several very smart people, fatal.

This line of thought set my Spider-Sense all a-tingle. It’s not to say that it couldn’t be true, but to have that option be anything other than the absolute last resort struck me as dangerous. Because, as the title of this post posits, I believe that boredom is a part of the process.

Boredom isn’t fatal—it’s normal. It’s a roadblock, for sure, but it isn’t fatal. Every story I’ve ever written, I’ve written 1/3 to 1/2 of it, then got bored and left it—sometimes for a week, sometimes for years. But I have, to this point, always come back and written to something like an ending. And then I’ve gone back in and fixed the beginning to better match the ending. And then I’ve  massaged/tinkered with/rewritten the middle to fit everything together more smoothly. And then I’ve tweaked the ending to cap off the new beginning and middle. And then I’ve gotten bored and walked away again. And eventually I’ve come back again and really finished the thing once the full shape of it is out in the open.

Our brains are pattern recognition machines. Story is pattern fulfillment and denial. We talk about theme or voice or plot or arc or… and what we really mean is the indiscernible “thing” that holds a work together. That thing is, at its heart, pattern. We may think of that pattern in terms of arc or plot or voice or theme, that may be our conscious entry point into the pattern, but it’s bigger than that. It can be a complex, goofy, labyrinthine thing, but it comes from the basic idea of your story (what you know about it; where your “feet are planted,” the elements that you can’t change without no longer writing the story you set out to write, which will be a blog topic soon) being the filter through which every observation and choice you make about the work passes.

I firmly believe that boredom is simply the point when a pattern becomes too familiar. So sometimes, the simple passage of time is the answer—get far enough away and the pattern becomes fresh. Take a step back and when you return, you’ll be delighted by the pattern you’ve forgotten about and want to keep playing inside it, following it, disrupting it, altering it.

However, you can import an idea from improv comedy (because when do I ever not try to import an idea from improv into everything I do?) in order to maybe force the issue—make the bold choice. “Today is the day!” is a common refrain in improv classes: the day they finally have that tough conversation, the day they actually do hook up, the day the dog really does get put down. Make the bold choice and, I promise, it will reignite your interest because the bold choice almost always disrupts/alters the pattern (which is awesome, because it, in effect, establishes a new pattern which encompasses the old one and provides the beginnings of the old “surprising but inevitable” thing we’re told is so important in endings). This alteration/disruption should make the pattern newly strange, even to you. And strangeness & wonder are what we’re chasing, whether we know it or not.

This does NOT mean you should make an “unmoored” choice. Don’t just decide to stick a vampire in the middle of a story. Instead, re-read what you have and then think, “What is the biggest, strangest, boldest choice I can make RIGHT NOW?” And commit to the choice. Commit to it, because it came from your story brain. Your brain is the only place the world of your story exists and therefore, in my humble opinion, it is vitally important to trust any decisions that come from that same place (consciously or subconsciously or even unconsciously). Trust those choices until they have absolutely proven themselves to be bad choices. And then trust them further, because usually its better to alter things so the choices work than to make different choices.

Take all this with, of course, a comically oversized grain of salt. It may not work for you at all.

But I bet a bazillion dollars it will.

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