Boredom

I’d heard that creativity can’t happen without a bit of boredom, but to be honest, I was skeptical. Granted, I’m not someone who is glued to my phone, which, combined with social media, is supposedly the true creativity killer. I’m just someone who feels that time shouldn’t be wasted, so I try to make the best use of it.

I call this being productive.

But, recently, I had a day in which I didn’t have a lot going on. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was bored, but my mind was more or less unoccupied. What I found was that my mind began to gush like an oil geyser.

I came up with my first journal entry in months (this one). And I was able to solve two significant problems in film projects that had hit a bit of a snag. But that’s not all. I also wound up creating a loose outline for a short that had been rolling around in the back of my mind for months without a spark of inspiration.

Whereas I wasn’t sitting around all day just letting these ideas come to me, I was what I’d refer to as approachable. In other words, I was available for mental stimulation. I had space in my brain to create because I wasn’t clouding my thoughts with tweets or likes or whatever.

So, as I said, my mind started gushing like an oil geyser, and I was primed to rig up the ol’ pumpjack and suck my head dry. And that’s just what I did. Although I still think creativity can happen without boredom, it sure doesn’t hurt.

photo: Jeff W

Change

There’s nothing better than being finished for the day. Granted, that might look a little different for me. I write early in the mornings and workout at lunch. Right now, these seem to be the major hoops in my life. I work from home and find that my current occupation is compelling enough to keep me interested, so it’s not so much of a chore. Thus, by the time I’ve finished my lunchtime workout, I’m usually feeling pretty good about the rest of the day.

In fact, the second half of my workday tends to feel a little like a downward slope (in a good way). I’m willing to bet it’s because the workout has my endorphins flowing, rejuvenating me, and making me feel like the second half of the day is a bit more comfortable than the first. But knowing that my writing is finished as I walk home from the gym tends to make me feel like a superhero. And if I think I can fit in another writing session later in the evening? That’s even better.

This may be the benefit of being an early riser and explain why I’m conflicted about a change coming to my household—one that could require me to write solely in the evening or at lunch, forcing my workout into another time slot altogether. I’m, of course, resistant because I don’t want to miss out on the neurotransmitter-driven high I’ve been experiencing in the afternoons.

On the other hand, I want to see this kind of challenge or change in my routine as a welcome interruption. (Even if it’s disruptive and requires a bit of adaptation.) It could be similar to altering my workout regimen from dumbbells to bodyweight or vice versa. In other words, it can be beneficial to modify a routine.

Change can bring unexpected benefits. I’m not sure how I’ll feel if I need to start working out at night or consistently writing at that time, but I plan to approach the new situation with a sense of optimism. Because I’m hoping it’ll bring me a feeling comparable to being finished with the day around 1 p.m., except with a unique flavor all its own.

photo: Stephen Hateley

Rule of Three

I’m mulling over this new idea that I’m calling the Rule of Three. What it boils down to is that it’s almost impossible for me to focus on any more than three things at a time.

The way I look at it, that’s work, writing, and whatever sidebar I might have going on at any given time. Sometimes that’s Spanish. Sometimes it’s cinematography. I also like learning about Japanese gardens, so that gets in there too.

I enjoy other things, of course, but the point is that some of my interests kind of rotate in and out in terms of receiving my attention. I used to think of this as a fault. Why can’t I focus more? Why aren’t I more dedicated?

But the lack of attention may not be a problem. I have an obligation and responsibility in the form of my job. I also have a passion and a vocation that is writing, and I have a little bit of room left over to explore other interests.

The best I can hope to do is to get as structured as I can with writing and some of these other interests. That’s certainly an idea, and I’ve tried it. I studied Spanish routinely every day for a while (on top of everything else), and it was exhausting.

There may be room for a type of curriculum of things that interest me outside of writing. In other words, a third thing. But this third thing may have to be pursued sporadically rather than placed on a calendar. I could refer myself to this other endeavor whenever the mood struck.

As it is, even if I limit myself to three pursuits, I’m far from convinced I can get structured with stuff sitting far down on the totem pole.

Note to Self: The Rule of Three is an interesting theory, but it may have to become the Rule of Four. I didn’t mention family. I hesitate to include this type of obligation because I feel family shouldn’t have to compete with the others. But for many, it does.

photo: Zbysiu Rodak

Inspiration

You don’t need inspiration. Being creatively stimulated is… well, it’s necessary. But some people believe they should wait for inspiration before they begin writing.

Inspiration needs to be stoked, prodded, and probed. It should not be your muse. Inspiration should be your therapist. Go to it for answers or, at least, for a sounding board. If you find yourself waiting for inspiration, then stop waiting and begin the search.

Provoke your creativity. Work—that’s right work—at being inspired. Otherwise, you will always be at the mercy of your inspiration. This can’t be because you will sometimes feel like you don’t want to write.

And you have to write.

Inspiration is beside the point. Don’t let it have power over you. A writer should always be able to sit down and put words on the page.

Try thinking of it as breaking a wild horse. Tame your inspiration and bring it under control. Then go galloping bareback through the fields. The point is that inspiration should be something you ride into the sunset. If you let it ride you, you may not go anywhere.


Update:

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work. -Stephen King

photo: Alice Donovan Rouse

Murakami

The interplay between mood and tone is what always brings me back to Haruki Murakami. I can see how some might complain that it makes his books too similar. But I don’t see a whole lot of people complaining about his writing.

I admire the fact that the work carries a similar attitude throughout his extensive bibliography. I have to imagine that a body of work that shows consistency and growth would be an author’s dream.

I came to Murakami like most—through Norwegian Wood. Since then, I’ve read just about everything else. I think A Wild Sheep Chase is my second favorite work he’s produced. (That may be, in part, because of what I know about how it was written.)

My favorite book by Haruki Murakami is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I’ve actually only listened to it on audiobook, but I’ve probably heard to it a dozen times because, for a time, I played it repeatedly while jogging.

The book details Murakami’s journey as a marathon runner. But it includes some reflections on his early days as the owner of a jazz bar and an emerging novelist.

Murakami’s first works were pitched as novels, but they were novellas. A Wild Sheep Chase, on the other hand, is novel-length and demonstrates a move in a more mature and developed direction. According to his autobiographical book on running, that novel involved both risk and uncertainty. And, for god’s sake, it gave us the sheep man.

One last thing, if you’re wondering why there’s an image of a cat at the top of this essay, you should read Kafka on the Shore.

photo: Marko Blažević

Flash

Writing flash fiction was one of the ways I trained myself to write a book. I made a few attempts at writing a full-length novel just over ten years ago and failed on multiple occasions.

The problem was I hadn’t fully prepared myself to write a book. First off, I hadn’t created an outline. Secondly, I didn’t know my characters. I just knew that I wanted to write a book, so I dove right in.

I don’t necessarily think this was a mistake. The alternative may have been to continually talk about wanting to write a novel without actually sitting down and doing it. Instead, I envisioned the first scene, had a general idea of where I was going and proceeded to fail miserably.

A couple of years after my first attempts, I encountered flash fiction and sat down to write a novel-length work of microfiction. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the perfect training for writing novels.

I got to the point where I could write about 1,000 words (or one piece of flash) in about an hour. It was an exercise or preparation for what I started to see could be scenes or a portion of a chapter.

The next time I tried to write a novel, the word count came to 90,000 words. The trick was that I wrote it 1,000 words at a time. In this way, I was able to complete a much longer work. That novel wasn’t very good and was full of fatal flaws, but it was a step in the right direction.

In short, writing flash helped me get over a hump. Even if it was only the discipline of sitting down every day to write a flash fiction piece, I learned how to break a larger work into much smaller chunks. My hope is that this gives each chapter an arc that feeds into the larger narrative.

photo: Kristopher Roller

Full-time

I can vividly recall the moment I decided I wanted to become a writer. I was sitting in a tan corduroy chair inside a cramped college dorm room. I was rereading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. It was at that moment that I realized I saw the world just as Huxley did. And I thought this might mean I should write novels, too.

Of course, at the time, I was also very interested in photography and film and understanding that a degree in Creative Writing might not pay any bills, I ultimately decided to study Mass Communications.

It took me some time to come back around to writing books, but ever since then, I’ve wanted to write full time. Even then, I understood writing novels would most likely mean writing other things in support of that endeavor. But the reality is I’m not entirely sure I want to write articles for a magazine like Cat Fancy just to say that I’m a full-time writer. (I’m allergic to cats.)

At times, I fear this means that my dream of becoming a full-time writer is unrealistic. It’s hard enough as it is, but once you start putting stipulations on what you will and will not do (like writing about cats), it becomes that much harder. People who do become full-time writers may be willing to write anything. But I’ll only do that up to a point (e.g., I ghostwrote this sci-fi novel).

These days I’m starting to see that time is limited. In other words, I’m only going to get to write so many more books. And I’m just not sure I want to spend all day writing articles on the best kitty litter only to find out I haven’t got any words left for my work later that night. In other words, if I can’t write full time, I might just write for me.

photo: Mikhail Vasilyev

Books

I sometimes prefer to read a physical book over the digital version on an e-reader. But sometimes I don’t and I’m just fine with an ebook. So, the question I’ve had recently is whether or not a collection of physical books is necessary.

At present, I have a collection of works by Michael Crichton, Anthony Bourdain, Haruki Murakami, and a few by Aldous Huxley. I also have a smattering of books by other authors. But I tend to return those others to my local bookstore for store credit.

Earlier this year, I had my heart set on an Everyman’s Library set for display on my bookcase. For the most part, this collection would have included books I’ve read and want to read again. But there were also several others I was planning to read.

At this point, it’s hard for me to foresee what I’m going to want. It might be made more apparent when I land in a home… with a library. Either way, I know I’ll continue to want some books in my office in the future. But how many?

Some people say that there can never be too many books. But I want a curated collection.

Most recently, I’ve tended to read nonfiction on e-readers and fiction in print, but that appears to be shifting (especially since you can get library books on an e-reader). I prefer the hardcover version of a work if I’m going that way, but my concern is that in the next twenty years, this could become even too old-fashioned for me.

For the time being, the library is on hold. But that doesn’t mean books aren’t essential. I will continue reading the classics while sitting in the leather chair in my office–sipping whiskey or coffee or not sipping anything at all–no matter the format of the book.

photo: Iñaki del Olmo