The Inspiration of Boredom

By Mark Alpert

“Life, friends, is boring.” — John Berryman

I encourage all of you to read “Dream Song 14,” the poem from which this quote is taken. Berryman had the courage to recognize that there are times when life seems deadly dull.

But boredom can also be an inspiration. When you lose interest in all the books on your shelves, when the daily news is nothing but repetitive disaster, when your kids grow up and no longer want to play games with you, when the whole world is gray and cold and cheerless…well, when all that happens, what’s a writer’s first instinct?

It’s to create something new, something interesting. A page, a scene, a chapter, a novel. That’s how I feel right now. The only thing that interests me is the book I’m starting to write.

What about you? Have you ever felt this way?


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About Mark Alpert

Contributing editor at Scientific American and author of science thrillers: Final Theory (2008), The Omega Theory (2011), Extinction (2013), The Furies (2014), The Six (2015), The Orion Plan (2016), The Siege (2016), and The Silence (2017). His latest thriller, The Coming Storm (St. Martin's Press, 2019), is a cautionary tale about climate change, genetic engineering, and Donald Trump. His website:

3 thoughts on “The Inspiration of Boredom

  1. Every weekday from Monday through Friday—bored out of my skull. That’s why instead of just coming home and turning on the TV or whatever idle attractions there are to lose yourself in, I’m rabid about using every spare bit of that scant free time to work on stories, historical research, art, or whatever other creative, meaningful things I can.

    I do sometimes wonder: if I had an interesting, meaningful day job, would I have the energy to create/write as much? Who knows.

  2. Oh, ya got my neurons firing with that question!

    You remind me of how, as children, we four did not dare to say to our mother, “I’m bored.” In a blink, we’d have a toilet brush in our hands, down on our knees, scrubbing. Anything-even boredom-was better than scrubbing a toilet, and Mom knew it.

    She helped us understand in those days that boredom was actually a gateway. Many times, I’d escape into a book. Other times we’d go to the basement and turn the lights off and scare each other for a couple of hours. Or we’d go to the garage, and within an hour we’d have four sailboats made from scrap lumber and twine. There was a canal nearby and our sailboats-now peopled with pirates-would soon bob on the surface, cannons and muskets firing.

    I still get bored sometimes. But now I know the remedy, taught by my dear Mom. Walk away from the commode and do something interesting, something not usual, something reckless, something that just might get me into trouble.

    Works every time.

  3. A vital internal life should be an absolute must for people, particularly kids. In these days of cell phones in every kid’s hand and entertainment units in the back seat of the SUV, not to mention almost no down time, I doubt many kids have the ability to just dream any more. I was never truly bored as a kid, and I sure as heck never complained about it.

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