Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Value Of Boredom

Indie publishing is an exciting, task-filled, event-filled, fun-filled land of opportunity in which it is almost impossible to be bored.

I'm not talking about the writing, or reading. I'm talking about activities. Sales, marketing, stats keeping, bookkeeping, schmoozing, ranting, talking, learning, blogging, formatting, font shopping, more schmoozing, email checking, and marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing.

And none of this compares to the high volume of entertainment you can get out of checking your stats.

But that's no different than anybody else in America who finds themselves endlessly enthralled (for good or bad) by Angry Birds, and videos of cats riding roombas, breaking news stories, or an endless cycle of "The World's Most Dangerous Auction Makeovers" on cable TV. Or even opera and brilliant classic movies.

In this day and age, we never ever ever have to be bored. And that's not actually a good thing.

(Pause for the Little-Old-Lady-Shakes-Her-Cane-At-The-Kids rant.)

A good portion of how I became a writer came from the Slow Days Of Summer. I can't believe it when I think of it. We had this OLD 1890s farmhouse -- didn't even have central heating up there in northern lower Michigan -- where we lived all summer, and most weekends during the rest of the year. I often had my horse, and sometimes friends and cousins, but for the most part, it was a place of silence. No place to go, nothing to do, only one channel on television, and all it played was Hee Haw. And the days were very long up there in summer, and you couldn't ride all day.

And yet, I just couldn't wait to get up there. Even in the winter when there were no horses, no friends at all, and it was freezing cold inside the house. And we wore our full winter coats to bed.

But there was always the musty wall paper and four-foot high beds and the room we were afraid to go into because the floor might collapse.

The appeal, I think, was that there was not a whole lot of intellectual noise going on in the place. Even in the most active moments, when I took my horse out and we climbed dunes and explored lichens and checked out thickets and antique trash heaps. There was a lot to be interested in, but it was all tactile and visual. It never enthralled me. Never got me engaged to the point of urgency where I had to do it, where I had to keep going....

It never competed with what was going on in my head.

And because my attention was not sucking up endless amounts of energy, my unconscious mind -- the dream part of my mind -- had plenty of time to work.

It's important for writers to realize that boredom is not the enemy. As readers, we avoid boredom -- it's the thing that makes us pick up books. But writers, I think, should quell that instinct. Stop looking for diversion. Start learning to resist diversion.

A few years ago, when my day job situation got to feeling pretty threatening, I got rid of cable TV as an unnecessary expense. I was surprised at how much of a difference it made in my life. I'm not anti-TV. I still watch all my favorite shows on the internet or DVD. But all of a sudden the noise was gone.

But more than that. There was a particular kind of noise that went away with cable TV. Television is all about "URGENCY!" Not just the ads, or even the drama shows, but the whole thing. Heck, the news and information shows are the worst.
"Coming up next, Scary News About Breast Cancer."
"Politicians Are Doing Something Nefarious In Washington!"
"These Five Tips Could Make Your Home Double In Value!"
"That Awful Bitch Is Going to Win Dancing With The Stars!"
"Your Hair Sucks, but You Can Fix It!!"

Urgency hypes up the audience, makes them feel the very opposite of bored. Urgency makes you feel alive, involved, and it's also bad for your health. It raises your blood pressure, causes you to release stress hormones. It causes the irrational part of your brain to take greater control, and makes you susceptible to manipulation. And it crowds out creativity.

We know this about television.

But the internet is all about urgency too.

Unlike television, the internet is interactive. We can be heard in the din, so we become like a crowd of children, each speaking a little louder, more persistently, finding a higher perch to project our voices from.

We can also make a difference, which is completely unlike television. If someone is wrong on TV, all you can do is listen. But when someone is wrong on the internet, you can correct him! We've all seen the famous cartoon, in which the character can't go to bed because someone is wrong on the internet. It's an urgent matter. He must be heard.

Do you know why he must be heard? What makes it so important? Because he is not bored. He's fully engaged. He's excited. For all his bitching, he's happy.

And that's his problem.

He is helpless in the face of his own full-throttle, full-engagement complete lack of boredom.

Last week I quit hanging out on a certain indie writer forum. A number of people messaged me to say they had thought about quitting, but where would they go? They didn't know of any other board which was as useful or vibrant or ... urgent.

A part of me was rational and said: hey, this place is a time sink, I don't want to replace it with another place just like it...I want to replace it with some other kind of vibrant, useful, exciting place.

Hi. My name is Camille, and I have an excitement addiction.

So I have a suggestion for those who want to find something to replace some internet time suck:

Replace the board with the bored.

Rediscover the joy of watching traffic go by, of poking at lichens on the side of a tree. Of letting your imagination unfold.



Divert yourself.

Let your brain out of that captivity of urgent online activity.

One of the things I'm doing is poking around at Project Gutenberg. I'm staying away from things I normally like, and looking for things which don't usually interest me much. PG is like an attic full of dusty old books, on a long day at the end of summer when there is nothing to do. It's a great place to rediscover the joys of discovery.

I'm going to write a little more about the fruits of that activity. But later. I got dreaming to do.

See you in the funny papers.

1 comment:

ModWitch said...

Yup. I've returned to swimming as a form of exercise fairly recently, and there's nothing quite as boring as traversing the same 25m of watery real estate over and over. I've solved (and generated) a lot of story stuff somewhere around lap 37 in the past couple of months.