Why be bored?

This is about writing, so stay with me here…

I’m Catholic and we just finished the season of Lent.  Lent is supposed to be a time of self-denial and people give up all sorts of things: meat, candy, beer, Facebook, etc.  This year I looked at my life and tried to see what was distracting me the most in my free hours.  I came to the conclusion that I was watching too much streaming video (HBO Now, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, whatever you associate that with).  When I washed dishes, I would watch VEEP.  When I cleaned, I might stream a Good Wife episode. I might watch Downton Abbey in the bath.  I cut the cord, at least for Lent.

What I discovered is that it is really hard to allow yourself to be bored.  I don’t watch much TV otherwise, and streaming video was kind of my background noise while I did meaningless/easy tasks or unwound at the end of the day.  Suddenly, my brain had to cope with silence and it did not like it.

At first.

Several studies, including a recent one in the UK and several in the US, show how creativity can come from the brain being presented a boring task.  Simply washing the dishes, taking a walk without listening to a podcast, or riding the subway without playing a game on your cellphone can be enough to elicit your brain to keep itself interested.  I thought this claim was a bit dubious at first, but as my time without video went on my word counts on my novel went up (WAY up.)  No one else was writing plots for me to enjoy, so I had to write my own.  This phenomenon is mentioned in Stephen King’s book On Writing.  He writes rather off-handedly about how idiotic most television is (though his books and movies have become TV themselves.)

So, I challenge you to take your own Lent from something that you fill the entertainment quota in your life.  Matt Cutts has a great (and very short!) TED talk about his personal challenges to improve his life called Try Something New for 30 Days.  In just 30 days you can experiment with leaving something behind that distracts you and see what comes of it creatively.  Maybe nothing will happen, but you never know until you try.

(Plus, if you start today, you’ll have exactly29 days until the Game of Thrones season 6 premier, and you could cheat by just one day… but only for that.)

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