Last week, I spoke for career day at my son’s intermediate school, telling about the life of a working writer. About fifty kids from the school had signed up to hear me. They were so bright, so attentive, their eyes wide, their brains bubbling.
I told them that to succeed, a writer needs three things:
- Passion—the love of writing and the burning desire to say something
- Precision—the love of language and the care to get it right
- Paycheck—the steady money that comes from some other job
I told them that writing was the easiest profession to start. To be a writer, all you had to do was write. Once you were writing, you were a writer. I asked how many of them were writers. Forty hands shot up.
Then I asked them what they were writing. A dozen or so told about their stories—real life stories of poor children struggling and rich children struggling, fanciful stories of mythological detectives and wars at the dawn of time. I asked them how they came up with their ideas.
“I was sitting at home, staring out the window, tapping my pencil.”
“I don’t know. There was nothing to do, so I just came up with it.”
“I was bored.”
And I smiled. I hadn’t realized kids nowadays still had the opportunity to be bored. With packed school days and tae kwon do and plays and iPads and YouTube and cable TV, the war on boredom has many formidable weapons. But boredom isn’t dead, a fact that makes me glad.
Boredom is the birthplace of the writer.
My sixth-grade teacher once looked out at our class and said, “None of you ever have a right to be bored. All of you have these big, brilliant brains. If you ever find yourself being bored, stop looking for something outside to entertain you. Start looking inside. You have worlds upon worlds in there.”
How right he was. In my own brain, I’ve found twenty worlds and counting—the number of published books I have. And it’s because I routinely get bored and have to create my way out of it.
So, a writer needs more than passion, precision, and a paycheck. A writer also needs the time and space to get bored…and be born out of it again, and again, and again.