Thomm Quackenbush, author

The Importance of Being Bored

Some of my best ideas come when I am showering, driving long distances, tossing in my bed restlessly, or doing yoga; in other words, when I am least able to write anything down. While on runs, I used to dictate into my MP3 player multiple paragraphs of suddenly formed plot so that I might not forget anything valuable. I considered this inconvenience the cruel quirk of the writer brain, missing the point entirely because I was too close to it.

My mind is productive these times because I let myself be bored after long swaths of stifling amusement. All at once, things became quiet enough to hear what needed hearing. Our culture abhors boredom, providing no end of entertainment to distract us from the discomfort of not having something flashing in front of our eyes. Entertained people are rarely creative, bread and circuses being the surest way to abate cunning plans.

I am not saying that creative types should never be entertained but simply be mindful of our use of distraction. The internet will swallow one's productive time without one having to lift a finger. Never before in history has the boredom of the common man been more threatened.

I live in a world where I need never cease to be entertained. There are a dozen shows people talk about of which I know nothing, because I can only allow a small steam of entertainment into my life if I am going to be able to get anything done or have a solitary original idea. I doubt other serious artists feel differently, but I am willing to be lectured by someone who can manage both a Netflix addiction and a good day of writing.

Amber astounds that I cannot sit and binge watch, but it is in guilt that I could better spend these hours. This is not to imply I will be productive, but the aspirational notion that I might otherwise. Time before screens melts and drains with hardly a notice. I am a creative, even if I am not yet as productive as I wish to be - I am not certain I could even produce enough to sate my desires. I do not have my time neatly proportioned into a dozen discrete boxes, but instead "Time I am writing" and "time I am not writing and ought to be," this last category occupying too much of my hours. Entertainment nearly always falls into the later box, save when it inspires me to write or refine something.

With cherishing boredom for the gift it is comes a renunciation of what one doesn't need. Renounce knowing pop culture unless you need this more than you need to create. Renounce activities that will interfere with your obligation to your art. Understand the temptations before you and turn away from their cloying sweetness when you need the bland and filling to keep you going.

No, this isn't fun. It is boring. Own that.

I work a day job ten months out of the year and there are some days - more days than I can to admit - when I want nothing more than to shut off my brain with television and video games until I can go to sleep. I write on those days too, because doing otherwise feels like giving up my dream for a momentary distraction. Is my dream not even worth this small battle, choosing an hour of work over an hour of diversion? Every hour I work brings me closer to a world where maybe I can indulge an extra half hour of shows, when I can complete a mission on Left 4 Dead without guilt. But I've met myself and frankly doubt I'd indulge myself. Work begets more work.

I focus my summers on writing and conventions. Near the end of the school year, in preparation for the summer's work, I sift through the sites and people I follow online. Any whom I do not love, any who do not improve my life, are unfollowed with unmentioned apologies. I have only so many minutes a day and would rather spend more in fertile boredom than passive and middling entertainment of webcomics five years out of relevance to my journey.

But I cannot completely cut myself off. Consider entertainment options as inhaling, to cop The Oatmeal's analogy. With everything you create, you are exhaling, but you cannot do this forever. Eventually, you have to inhale or you will pass out into uselessness. However, are you going to inhale whatever is put in front of you (car exhaust, cigar smoke, sulfur mining) or wouldn't you rather breathe in the scent of something you love? You have to continue to breathe. Except for people with rare psychological issues, we cannot work without pause (and even they are creating more out of a sense of quantity than quality). It is too easy to lazily poison oneself with anesthetics and pollution.

I breathe. I give myself half an hour before bed to do nothing but read. I allow a little television with dinner. I cannot say my daily exercise is free of work, as the podcasts I listen to are skimmed for writing ideas. Still, I coddle myself enough that I am not grasping for air, even if I don't feel I produce enough to justify all this aimless breathing I do. It is keeping me alive long enough to create the next step in my path of books no one reads. (I won't let myself feel guilt in the seeming lack of overlap between the tenor of my published works and how serious I am about the idea of writing.)

Keep your writing time sacred, even if you feel blocked. If you cannot stand to write during these hours, let yourself be bored. Luxuriate in the oddity of this sensation, the tingle on your skull. I promise you, your brain would rather write than let you remain unstimulated. Boredom will again give you control of your mind, so long as you can keep your phone and Wi-Fi off during your writing time. Boredom unclouds your mind like meditative sessions. Figure out how to become bored more frequently, especially when trying to figure out the solution to some plot problem.

Writing to me is my altar and I make regular sacrifices upon it. My hope of having an easy, unexamined life was among the first things put to the knife. I should have figured my entertainment options would be limited by trying to create something for others to consume.

I need my best ideas to know they can get through to me. If that means staring at the wall so they can speak clearly, that is the sacrifice I will make. I've sunk too much of myself into this passion to whine when forced to choose between watching Amber play a video game and tapping out sentences until they resolve into something I can condone posting.


Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.


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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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