Writing Secrets: When did “bored” become a bad thing?

 In How to write a book, Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

My mother didn’t allow us to use the word “bored”. She said there was always something to do, or think about.

We could read, climb a tree, watch insects or simply sit thinking and day-dreaming. Research has borne this out. Children need time to be “bored”. They shouldn’t be taught that it’s a bad thing.

It’s essential to creative thought and expression.

I was punished for day-dreaming in school. (I was a dyslexic child who survived only through my rich fantasy life, usually in maths lessons.) Yet I’m convinced that being a day-dreamer made me into a writer.

We should all learn to rely on our minds to keep us occupied and entertained. And yet, we don’t permit ourselves the time to develop the ability. If we’re unoccupied for an instant, we feel guilty, or resentful. (Entertain us, world!)

If you’re standing in a queue, it’s important that you don’t always reach compulsively for the nearest social medium. Being creative requires us to day-dream, to allow our thoughts to roam aimlessly, to imagine.

Just as it’s important to set aside writing time, and use it, it is just as important to allow ourselves time to contemplate, for our thoughts to coalesce.

Bertrand Russell said: “A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men … of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.”

It’s a matter of being present within yourself. There are those who theorise that reaching for a device stems from the unconscious desire to be absent from your inner self, to escape yourself and the world.

Comedy writer Graham Linehan once said in an interview that he had to cut off the internet and force himself to be bored “because being bored is an essential part of writing and the internet has made it very hard to be bored”.

We fear boredom. And we teach our children to fear it. And yet, if we teach ourselves to welcome it, if we allow ourselves time to contemplate, to dream, to sit quietly and think, we can become better writers.

We can become better people, with more understanding of who we are, as individuals and as human beings.

Jo-Anne Richards is an internationally published novelist with a PhD in Creative Writing from Wits University. Jo-Anne has published five novelsThe Imagined Child, The Innocence of Roast ChickenMy Brother’s Book,  Touching the Lighthouse and Sad at the Edges.

Her first novel, The Innocence of Roast Chicken has been rereleased, as part of the Picador Africa Classics collection. When it first appeared, in 1996, it was nominated for the Impac International Dublin Literary Award and chosen as an “outstanding debut novel” by a British book chain.

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