I admit I have a longstanding fear of being boring. Or I’m convinced that my writing (and my conversation) is artless and unoriginal. The reality though, is far from that, and in life and in writing, I seem to break most of the rules. I guess in this sense, I’m most sensitive about something that matters a lot to me – originality, plus there’s probably some insecurity caused by exclusion and oppression thrown in there. I haven’t taken the popular route in life, nor in what I write about, and sometimes we can conflate being interesting with being popular, though they really aren’t connected, and are often at odds with each other.
Given this confusion though, I’m going to outline some key elements of what does make writing boring, and then what can make it popular. I want to be clear that neither is something to necessarily aspire to.
-Depends on cliches: Cliched people, situations, and language aren’t thought provoking, tend to reinforce negative and discriminatory stereotypes, and we’ve heard it before, over, and over again.
-In the same vein, boring writing reinforces and idolises the status quo. It’s not just that in today’s world, the status quo is injustice and is fucked up, but that the lack of critical thinking in such writing, and the quick and easy choice of covering what everyone is already overly familiar with, makes for boring, mind-numbing reading. Don’t confuse status quo with “every day” topics though: we need to examine everyday life: the issue is how we do it.
-Repetitive or unnecessarily long winded: When we write, there are sometimes really good, artistic reasons to repeat something, and sometimes we are clear that an article or story needs to be longer than average. However, unnecessary fluff, irrelevant tangents, repetition of words and concepts is lazy, and boring to read.
-Is uncompelling: While it’s fine to write just for the sake of writing, for yourself, writing that will be read by others should be written for a reason. Writing that *had* to be written, in order to defend people, take a stand, state something everyone is avoiding, laugh at something that needs to be laughed at – has so much more energy and motivation behind it than someone who is writing merely to meet a quota. Interesting writing is hungry. It is craving something – life, justice, a moment, understanding, science, etc.
-Is unengaging: When someone talks just to be heard, and is unaware of the person or people they are talking to, they can be pretty hard to listen to. The most dynamic writing, then, seeks to engage the reader, rather than lecture them from an unreachable pedestal in the sky.
-Doesn’t teach readers something new: By “teach”, I don’t mean “lecture”, rather, interesting writing adds something new to the conversation, and the reader goes away thinking “I hadn’t thought of it like that before” or “It never occurred me that…” or “I didn’t realise there were so many species of stick insect that look like orchards”.
-Stays in the comfort zone: Again, its not a crime to be here – we all need dignity, and peace of mind sometimes. But the most interesting writing is daring. It’s risky – in terms of theme, or the way it’s done. Repeating the same old murder mystery formula, or the same old article structure may be harmless, but the golden rule is, if it’s easy, its probably a bit boring.
-Is uninformed: Ok, it’s true that some people can know nothing about a topic and have no life experience in it, but that they can throw in a few creative swear words and make their trolling shocking, and somewhat interesting, if horrifying as well. But generally, uninformed, naive writing is basically that: it’s opinions expressed for the sake of it, with no solid, detailed facts or experiences to back it up. When we read, we love the details: they are what bring writing to life, and to get there, the writer needs to do their research.
-Appeals to the masses, and sells well, or is read broadly. It’s not a crime if this happens, but given the low standards of a people brought up on consumerism, Fox news and its equivalents, education systems based on memorisation, and a heavy diet of sexism, racism, classism – mass appeal, on its own, is not an indication of quality or originality.
-Is often, but not always, the result of privilege: whether it’s knowing the right people, or being born into the “right” class, gender, sexuality, country, race, etc: the reality is that well-off straight white men from the US and UK utterly dominate English-language books, stories, and journalism. And the friends they help often have similar identities. Some of the most brilliant, original, colourful stuff won’t see the light of day. This, for me, is one of the saddest things about this world: but it shows, again, that in an unequal world, popularity isn’t the best measure of good writing.