When I worked as an editor at a greeting card company, my boss said, “Boredom isn’t a bad thing. It inspires creativity.”
Boredom and loneliness are the reasons I became a writer.
As a child, I often rode my bike to the Northeast Regional Library in Philadelphia and piled books into a purple, flowered basket. Inside those books were friends who placated me for my dearth of real friends.
Boredom drove me to our kitchen table with pen and paper one evening when I was 10, where I wrote my first short story – “Happy-Go-Lucky” – about a horse that died. (The horse was neither happy nor lucky.)
My mom’s enthusiasm for the story clinched my decision to become a writer.
But too much boredom or loneliness can also stop creativity cold.
I once asked a friend who worked from home, “Do you ever get lonely?” She looked at me like I was crazy.
“Of course not,” she said.
So I kept my feelings of loneliness to myself.
I’d volunteer more at our kids’ schools. I’d meet a friend for a walk. I’d think about getting a “real” job. Unfortunately, none of those put words on the page.
For me, writing well means vast swatches of time alone to let ideas and characters ripen. It means sitting in a quiet house day after day after day.
So what’s a lonely or bored writer to do (other than spending inordinate amounts of time on Facebook or other social media?)
The following suggestions may help you find the right balance between the quiet you require and the outreach you crave.
1. Find an accountability buddy.
My accountability buddy is a member of my in-person critique group. Jill and I exchange daily e-mails. “Good morning! What are your intentions for today? I’m going to write for one and a half hours, then….” At day’s end, we share whether we achieved our intentions, surpassed them or fell short. If one of us even thinks about slacking off, the other writes, “Remember, even 30 minutes of writing matters.”
We’ve motivated each other to get up early, work late and do whatever is necessary to get those words on paper. And in the process, we’ve kept each other’s spirits buoyed and that feeling of isolation at bay.
Authors April Henry and D. L. Garfinkle are accountability buddies, even though they’ve met in “real life” only once, for about an hour. They encourage one another to push harder and write more through nightly e-mails. They also share thoughts on parenting, spouses, books.
Their writing gets done because they committed to signing a contract.
At a recent conference, Bruce Coville told how he and the late Paula Danziger had been accountability buddies. When daily phone calls weren’t enough to motivate them to get those pages written, they upped the ante. If one person did not meet a daily writing goal, he or she had to make a small donation to the political party he or she most disliked.
Those pages got written.
Novelist Jodi Picoult walks with friends every morning before her kids leave for school. Then she writes until they come home. The exercise and companionship get her through long writing days.
I joined an outdoor exercise class. We jog and lift weights in nearby parks and laugh and groan together. By the time I get home, I’m ready for quiet writing.
The companionship during the class is just enough to get me through the rest of a solitary workday.
2. Find an alternate workspace.
I know a group of young adult writers who rent a hotel room and sit around a table, writing together, but separately, all day long. It’s the same principle as group exercise classes: You don’t want to be the first to quit.
Or you can apply for a residency, where you are in the company of other creative people during part of the day. You can find a searchable directory of residencies at artistscommunities.org.
I sometimes go to a library to write because there are other people there, but it’s still quiet. Same with coffee shops, where the noise level may be too frenetic for some and comforting to others. If the ambiance and not the actual people is what you are looking for, stream the sounds of a coffee shop at coffitivity.com.
3. Listen to radio, downloadable books and podcasts.
Sometimes you need to hear the human voice.
When writer and illustrator Janeen Mason works, she often listens to audio books about the creative life such as Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth.
For some, the radio does the trick. I listen to WXPN, a station from my hometown of Philadelphia where the same disc jockeys have been on the air for more than 20 years. Hearing their voices is like listening to old friends. If you don’t have a favorite radio station, check out the airwaves of another writer. Connect to Stephen King’s rock and roll radio station by clicking the link at bottom of his website.
Or go the podcast route. Here are some of my favorite podcasts (available free through iTunes) that banish boredom and loneliness and inspire creativity:
- This Creative Life with Sara Zarr
- Brain Burps About Books with Katie Davis
- This American Life with Ira Glass
- Bullseye with Jesse Thorn
- The New Yorker Fiction Podcast
5. Watch an inspiring video at TED.com.
Donna Jo Napoli reminds us that when we create books
for children, we must dare.
Andrew Stanton, creator of WALL-E and Toy Story, shares tips on creating a great story.
Search “creative spark” at TED.com and you’ll be treated to 10 talks about creativity, including Elizabeth Gilbert’s (Eat, Pray, Love) Your Elusive Creative Genius.
My favorite way to keep from being bored or lonely when writing is to be so deeply enmeshed in the story I’m creating that my characters keep me company during the day. If we do our jobs well – create meaningful characters who populate interesting worlds – we provide companionship for our readers, too.
Donna Gephart is the author of Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen.
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