These days, boredom is getting a lot of attention. It used to be that boredom was considered to have no redeeming qualities. Being bored simply meant being disinterested in whatever you were up to, and that you haven’t found anything to grab your interest.
More recently, psychologists have been conducting research into the benefits of boredom. It turns out: boredom can stimulate your sense of creativity. I’ve mentioned in an earlier post the research done by Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman, two researchers from the University of Central Lancashire, who concluded just that very thing.
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In an article for Harvard Business Review earlier this year (“The Creative Benefits of Boredom“) that referenced that study, author David Burkus described his heightened level of creativity after being stuck in 10-hour sales meetings. Once released, he found that over dinner, he’d have much more creative discussions with colleagues than what was supposed to be happening at the meetings.
The reason? The conferences were boring, but that experience of boredom apparently increased the sense of creativity that finally burst forth once freed from the mundanity of those meetings.
By creativity, Burkus was referring to the generation of new ideas, of being able to bounce thoughts off others, of being able to build on previous ideas — the kinds of things any creative person wants to do.
Those three aspects of creativity, by the way, happen to be poignantly applicable to songwriting:
- The generation of new ideas. As a songwriter, every song is essentially a collection of new ideas. The basic principles of songwriting may not change much from one song to the next, but the specific ideas — the melodies and lyrics especially — must be unique and new.
- An enhanced ability to bounce ideas off others. This applies specifically to songwriting collaborations, where the quality of the song you’re writing depends primarily on your ability to communicate in an effective way with your collaborator.
- An enhanced ability to build on previous ideas. Whether this is done with a songwriting partner or not, your songs get better when you take the lessons learned in previous songs (your own or others’) and write even better ones.
This is all fine to say, but knowing the benefits of boredom is not particularly useful, since it’s hard to set out to make yourself bored. And even if you do manage that, how do you know that you’re “bored enough to write”?
So as a songwriter, what can you be doing to take full advantage of boredom, and make it more likely that your sense of creativity will be enhanced? Here are some thoughts and ideas:
- Precede your songwriting sessions by going for a walk or reading a book. Whatever the activity, allow it to slow your mind, focus your thoughts, and get you finally wanting to “do something constructive.”
- Start every songwriting session with an unstructured improvisation. Whether alone or with a group of songwriting partners, start each session by engaging in a bit of mindless instrumental noodling. These sessions will, of course, generate ideas, but the aim is to simply slow the mind down and get you wanting to do something a bit more structured.
- Plan songwriting sessions to happen after work or classes, not necessarily before. Those early morning songwriting sessions have the benefit of getting some good work done before your day properly begins. But the research shows that doing your writing after a long day at work may be just the thing that allows your creative side to finally get rolling.
Perhaps this is why so many songwriters have such great things to say about songwriting retreats in the wilderness. Long walks through the woods or across meadows can bring you back to nature in the most positive ways possible, but has the added benefit of being a bit on the boring side: just enough to get you feeling creative again.
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