Why Boring Is the New Exciting
People often come to me asking, “How can I come up with a new and original idea?” The truth is, if you are looking for an idea to write about, there is no need to look for something new and exciting. It may sound crazy to say that boring is the new exciting. But, just as a magnificent lotus flower must first grow from a seed that germinates in mud and water, your most compelling idea is likely to be the one that grows out of the boring, most mundane aspects of life.
For example, consider the growing trend of writing blog posts about lifehacks (a term made popular by the website, Lifehacker). People are fascinated by lifehacks, but the ideas for lifehacks come from attempts to solve problems or to use an ordinary tool in a not-so-ordinary way, often to accomplish an ordinary end. I recently read a lifehack post on the topic, “10 Foods You Can Allegedly Make in a Coffee Maker.” What could be more boring than food? Or a coffeemaker? But put the two together and what owner of a coffeemaker (and what college student) isn’t going to want to read your post?
How do you think of an idea that takes the boring, everyday parts of life and makes them interesting? How do you take the boring and make it into a compelling and potentially publishable academic paper? I have several ideas for you to try. Once you get started, I think you’ll find that if you turn to the boring as a source of ideas, you’ll never run out of topics to write about!
- Start with unfocused research, reading generally and letting ideas percolate (one more use for that coffeemaker!) in your brain.
- Try crossing two seemingly unrelated, boring ideas in a fresh new way.
- Solve a boring but difficult problem.
- Revisit an old problem in a new way.
If you have a general topic area, but have not narrowed your topic, you may as well do some general reading on the subject. Keep a notebook handy to write down any ideas, no matter how unlikely or improbable, that may occur to you. Once you are ready to start narrowing your topic, you should start to search for other published works that pertain to it. Suppose that you have been assigned a paper to write on women in the works of William Shakespeare. You should find out what has already been written on this subject.
You could try the literary databases at your library (or your library’s website), or start with
Google Scholar or FindArticles. If you do, you’ll find feminist criticism of Shakespeare, studies of particular female characters, thematic studies. Take just one of the ideas you find in a scholarly article, relate it to modern mundane life, and you just may have a topic.
This is what the coffeemaker idea does. But there are other ways to use the crossing technique. You can apply this technique to academic writing, fiction writing, nonfiction essay or feature writing, speech writing – almost anything. If you need a topic for an academic paper, take a historical figure, writer, scientist, or philosopher, and ask how that historical figure would react to meeting a famous person from a different era or how that person would approach a problem that existed in a different era. What would a conversation between Bill Clinton and Napoleon be like? Add one more factor – today’s business world – and you’ve got an article on the lessons businesspeople today could learn from eavesdropping on a conversation between Clinton and Napoleon.
Your solution may be boring too – but if your solution is unexpected and/or unexpectedly doable, no matter how boring and mundane it is, people will flock to read what you have to say. How can you quit smoking without suffering unduly? How can you manage to get
up early every day? If you are looking for an academic paper topic, your problem will have to be a scholarly one. Catch a famous writer or philosopher in a paradox and try to resolve it, or find a hole in the scholarship on a particular subject and jump into it. If you review the literature on your topic by doing general reading first (see above), you will certainly find unsolved problems in the scholarship on your topic. How do we reconcile Nietzsche’s famous disdain for women (I seem to have women on my mind today) with the fact that he describes his Zarathustra, the overman, as feminine? Or turn to science and technology, and propose a unique, elegant solution to a common problem: could a rotavirus be genetically engineered and used as a prescription solution for chronic or for occasional acute constipation? Or propose a solution to a public policy problem: why do we use energy transporting recyclable materials to recycling centers? Is it possible to further decentralize the process of recycling so that we don’t have to consume as much energy in order to recycle?
What could be more boring than napping? And what could be more boring than work? But is the following topic truly boring: Is it true that Leonardo da Vinci used a nap schedule (some people call this polyphasic sleeping), instead of sleeping all night, to make himself more productive? Even a quick delve into Google Scholar on that one shows that scholars are continually fascinated, and challenged, by the question of sleep reduction – and also turns up the fact that attributing this strategy to da Vinci is somewhat controversial.
You can see that the technique here is to start with the boring, twist it, make connections in unexpected places, to other boring stuff, and see what creative topics you can grow. Try it – it works.