When was the last time you were bored? During my childhood, those who dared utter the forbidden phrase “I’m bored” were saddled with a chore or two (or three). Boredom is often viewed as idleness, and the solution is to fill that void with productivity. What if I told you that, as a writer, boredom holds an advantage?
When you sit at your desk and take up your pen, you’re centered on the act of being a storyteller. You bring to bear all the skill and experience you’ve accumulated. But what about the moments when you aren’t shaping settings and characters? What mindset fills your head?
An idea captures your attention, and after mulling it over for a few weeks, you begin to pursue it. The story flows naturally until you pass 20,000 words and realize you’re not sure why your protagonist made a life-altering decision in chapter one. All of your excitement flickers out. Have you failed at plotting? Every scene now feels contrived!
I often see writers deprecating themselves on social media. Or hesitating to share their work. Imposter syndrome—the belief that you’re not good enough, qualified enough, or capable enough—spoils the victories of creatives across the globe. Do you suffer from it too?
I’m addicted to flash fiction. I enjoy the challenge of compacting a story into a thousand words or fewer—and watching other writers do it too! But flash fiction is more than a method for writing quick, poignant stories. It’s an incredibly useful yet overlooked tool for refining your skills in general.
Although writing may feel isolating, you’re not stranded alone in a desert that spans from page one to “the end.” As Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, once said, “Every writer I know has trouble writing.” All writers go through dry spells, and renewing your love for storytelling is possible. The solution is simple: write even when you’d rather sink into the sand instead of pushing through it, and you’ll stumble upon the oasis you’ve been searching for.
When I was nine years old, I became the dictator of a sprawling, shape-shifting land called Fiction, and my political party consisted of myself, a few other students in our homeschool co-op writing class, and a table where we gathered during lunch breaks to scribble in our notebooks. We even passed a law banning nonfiction, and whenever our teacher gave us an assignment that didn’t involve mythical beings like unicorns and flying hippos, we’d threaten to revolt (and then, of course, we’d obey, because she was the adult).
As Joseph Campbell once said, “We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” The seeds of this article came from my own experience with chronic illness. Type 1 diabetes sometimes affects whether I can write, think, and speak coherently. But I’m fortunate. Insulin pumps and glucose monitoring machines allow me to function at the same physical and cognitive level as most healthy adults. My less productive days made me wonder, though: How do people who have far more debilitating conditions manage to write consistently?
For writers, especially “serious” writers, fanfiction can feel like the elephant in the room. Everyone is aware of it, and many of us have tiptoed into it. Yet, because of the stigma that clings to it, we avoid talking about it. The genre (if it can even be classified as one) has no gatekeepers or editors, and readers often use it to extend stories they love—usually with an odd or disturbing twist. You could fill a library with all of the erotica and overdramatic depictions of the worst tropes (consider yourself warned). Several popular mainstream books-turned-films began as fanfiction, including Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Jane Austen’s delightful novel repackaged with zombies and zombie fighters) and Fifty Shades of Gray (a smutty mutation of Twilight minus the vampires).
I started writing as a ten-year-old, inspired by my favorite authors who, in my mind, were the epitome of success. I longed to capture the hearts and imaginations of readers as powerfully as they captured mine. Yet, as I’ve matured as a writer, a bad habit has forced me to reconsider my outlook on success.