It’s unavoidable that sometimes we’ll have to slog through a part of our writing that feels like a bore. Whether you’re ghost-writing a book for a client, writing your thesis literature review, or even when you’re smack in the middle of that novel you always wanted to write. Chances are you’ll hit a spot where you just… can’t … keep … writing.
There are a hundred reasons why this might be the case, but today I want to tackle just one: boredom.
Here are a few scenarios that most would find boring:
- Filling out your tax forms.
- Playing a mindless kid’s board game with your 3 year old nephew.
- Sitting in a hospital waiting room (in Quebec, this can stretch out for 6 hours+, even in the “emergency” ward).
- Meditating: just sitting and focusing on your breath.
But notice that in all of these, there are examples of people who don’t find it boring:
- Accountants can get excited about taxes.
- Your 3 year old nephew loves that board game… and a board game designer might find it enjoyable too (even if it’s just by critiquing its awfulness).
- In the waiting room: An artist can draw the people and objects around him. A systems designer can think of ways of improving the many flaws she sees in the waiting room. A writer can take notes on how people behave in this situation.
- Meditating is something many people look forward to earnestly.
It seems that in these cases, the way to convert a boring situation to an interesting one, is to have skills that apply to that situation.
And while that’s true, it’s only the surface level. The reason that skills in an area lead to excitement with it, is that skills give you access to higher resolution in that area.
“When you’re more skilled at something, it’s as though a part of your world got an upgrade. It’s as though pre-badass-you had been experiencing the world in Standard and now a part of the world has become High Resolution.”
– Badass: Making Users Awesome, by Kathy Sierra
Here are a few ways that I’ve been able to apply this to my own life:
Slow Nature Walks
I have long legs and enjoy brisk walks… walk-and-talks with my wife have always been the foundation of our relationship. Unfortunately (I thought) a 3 year old has short little legs, and needs to stop at every leaf, insect, and rock on the way. Since we were going to be homeschooling our son, I did a great deal of introspection on how to develop the patience to go through my days at his pace.
In exploring with him I would always take the broad view: looking at trees, paths, looking for rabbits or squirrels. But one time, while meandering through the woods at toddler pace, I stopped and knelt to look at the ground… and was astonished. There was moss, tiny shells, bright red pinpoint sized insects, earth, and mica. A variety of life and textures and colors to be found in just the small patch of forest at my feet.
That simple experience formed the seed of this realization about the importance of resolution.
I know someone who is (or at least, was), an academic and a great intellectual snob. He spent his time deep in the analysis of his esoteric field. Once, he complained to me about his gatherings with his now-ex-girlfriend’s parents, who were farmers.
He said, roughly, “I go over to their house, and I have to pretend to be interested. What is there to say? They’re farmers!”
So they would sit, and talk about the weather, and be bored in each other’s company.
What a fantastically missed opportunity, for both parties!
Conversation, when seen as a means of validating your worldview, can be a torturous experience when it hits against someone different. But, if conversation is seen as getting a glimpse of a higher resolution world, as a way of “upgrading” your own reality by seeing the world through another person’s eyes, then it’s always exciting.
Two simple ways of finding that excitement, in any conversation:
1. Asking them what they’re excited about, and why that’s exciting to them.
2. Switch from Dismissive-to-Curious (“from D-to-C“). Our default reaction to things we don’t understand is to be dismissive “Fan fiction is a waste of time. People who don’t believe in climate change are brainwashed.” It’s much more productive (and much more fun!), to instead, become curious. “Why do people devote so much time to fan fiction? What’s exciting about it for them?” or “Why is it that some people still don’t believe in climate change? What factors are at play?”
I had tried many times to start meditating, but I found it too difficult to focus on my breath (or whatever I was using as a focal point). Like many, my mind kept wandering.
In meditating, I had always imagined shrinking my awareness down to “focus” on my breath and only my breath. But then I remembered my experiences with our slow nature walks, and realized that I was going about it the wrong way.
I had been trying to shrink my awareness to focus on just my breath, while keeping the rest of my awareness blank. What I found instead is I had to bring my breath closer, and examine it in more detail. In other words, I needed to make the focal point expand to fill my awareness instead.
When we’re bored, we want to rush through the experience to get to the other side. And that’s a reasonable response, if we can control the duration of what we’re experiencing. But sometimes we can’t or shouldn’t.
Rushing through those times is exactly the opposite of what will yield the best experience. Slow down, look deeply, learn, and see. Just remember that existence itself is a deeply puzzling mystery, and there’s a universe in a grain of sand.
Learn to look closer, to look deeper, and you’ll have learned how to find wonder in anything.