Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Writer's Guide to Boredom

If the book you are reading begins to displease you, you can skip ahead, hopeful of finding a more engaging foothold, or you can set the book aside, never to return.  If a film you are watching in a theater begins to turn your sensitivities as though you had eaten the wrong taco at the wrong restaurant, you can get up and leave.  Similarly you can switch the channel on your TV, seek another CD for a more enjoyable musical experience, bail out of a play or lecture at an intermission, toss a magazine aside or even not renew your subscription when renewal time comes about.  You could, if you were a student, drop a class when it became apparent to you that the instructor was monotonous in presentation or brought a particular bias to the presentation that caused you to wait for another instructor to act as your guide.

These ventures all have the common thread of an escape hatch.  You are escaping from disinterest or lack of engagement.  You are escaping from boredom.  By extrapolation, boredom is the product of circumstances that force you to remain in the vicinity of an exposure to dramatic, statistical, or artistic material that by its very nature causes you to wish to avoid.  Boredom is being trapped in a situation where you are being presented with some form of information you wish no exposure to.

The presentiment of boredom arrives with an ominous cadence of inner responses being triggered in you, causing you to estimate a level at which your tolerance will erupt.  Boredom is the realization that you must endure even more information you do not wish to inflict on your sensory receptors.  If, you tell yourself, I have to read one more page, hear one more sentence, endure one more scene, I will do something that allows me to expel the pent-up resentment that has been building within me.

You would think that a writer would use the process of writing to construct dramatic situations that cause the exact opposite of boredom, which is to say empathy, involvement, concern, care.  You would think that one of the writer's earliest motivations was to create emotional and imaginary landscapes he or she was unable to find anywhere else and thus satisfy an inner craving for transportation away from the drabness of the quotidian and into the excited tingle of another world.  You would think so and in an approach that has still not entirely given way to skepticism or cynicism, you approach new books with the belief that they are tickets to another universe, a fraught universe, a universe that causes your skin to tingle, your mind to roar with anticipation, your feelings to perform arpeggios and glissandos on your spinal column.

But we are of course not all tuned to the same responsive key nor do we have interests shared by great swaths of humankind.  Your interests can and do bore others, which has made you aware of the great tool of voicing by which it becomes possible to interest individuals with the information you are eager to provide rather than bore or distract them.

Spending time in a condition of boredom is a humbling experience for a writer, one possibly lost in the sheer exuberance of escaping the atmosphere of boredom.  Your own biggest fear is that of boring those you wish for some reason or complexity or reasons to interest.   The sense that you are boring such an individual is worse than a hundred rejection slips because you have become alert to the multiplicity of reasons for the rejection slip that have nothing to do with boredom.

It becomes so easy to generalize:  The key to effective storytelling is to begin with an irresistible sentence, followed by another, and then another, after which you will have built sufficient momentum to cause whoever shall read them to urge you to continue.  At this point you will have experienced the seeming magic of power by putting into play the great dramatic maxim, "Never take the reader where the reader wants to go."  Yeah, right.

Well, actually, it is right.  Withhold.  When you present the reader with more information and/or philosophy than the reader wants to know, you have brought them right back to the point at hand, which is to say you have put them not in care's way or harm's way but in the way of boredom.

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