Be Interesting, Be Boring

In my youth, I attended a small but ambitious all-girls prep school whose mantra was “Be Well-Rounded.”

And that didn’t mean a broad liberal arts education, to include science, math, literature, languages (both alive and “dead”), music, art, etc. (The course requirements took care of all that.) No, academic achievement was not nearly enough. According to the school, colleges–and, by extension, the world–would not find us interesting unless we also excelled in a wide variety of social, athletic, pseudo-religious, and fundraising endeavors.

Well-rounded: I quickly grew to despise the term, which turned out to mean that tall girls should play basketball whether they wanted to or not, that a skill or talent did not count unless it could be incorporated into a team, that a student’s achievements (whether intellectual or athletic) belonged not to her but to the school.

Furthermore, the school’s argument about what “the world” demanded always struck me as laughable at best. Surely the world needed, for example, hard-working scientists more than it needed mediocre singing gymnasts.

So it was with happy fellow-feeling that I encountered this piece of advice, from Austin Kleon’s friendly little book Steal Like an Artist:

Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)

I agree wholeheartedly. And I am nothing if not boring. So finally, something I’m doing right!

But then I read this piece by Chad Gervich, author of How to Manage Your Agent: A Writer’s Guide to Hollywood Representation. What do agents look for in a screenwriter? Gervich lists nine things: first, great screenwriting samples; second, a good attitude. But what’s third?

Interesting life experience

Here we go again. Be interesting. But more to the point, agents will not want to represent your writing unless your life is interesting.

But why should a screenwriter’s life be interesting? In order to be a writer (screen- or otherwise), a person has to spend a lot of time sitting, usually quietly, and thinking, usually in front of a notebook or computer screen or blank wall. And in those many long stretches of time, it no doubt looks, to the average outside observer, as though the writer is doing nothing at all. Just sitting. Pretty boring.

But that’s exactly what mental work looks like from the outside.

My life doesn’t need to be interesting to anyone other than myself. With luck, the products of my imagination might be interesting to someone else, however. With hard work, perhaps my writing will be interesting.

But in order to get any of that work done, I’m going to have to be boring.