A few weeks ago, my partner, Jake, wanted to watch the movie Nocturnal Animals with me. The film is about a writer who uses his newfound talent to torment the psyche of his ex-wife who left him years before. Since I’m a writer and also spiteful, Jake thought the movie would be right up my alley.

“Let me see the Blu-ray case,” I demanded, grappling at Jake’s hands.

Jake knew exactly why I wanted to read the back of the case, my intolerance for long movies a running joke between us. I am notoriously restless and have an attention span that is only shortening with age.

I used to consider my impatience a bad habit. But I’ve come to realize that my passions—reading and writing—should generate joy, and joy, for me, means accepting my restlessness and satisfying it with a narrative that is juicy, propulsive, and engaging right from the start. Harnessing my short attention span has now become one of my greatest strengths when I write nonfiction.

Think of a book, an essay, or a movie that you didn’t finish. At what point did you decide to put it down? Was it at the beginning, the middle, toward the end? What was happening (or not happening) in the narrative? What was the tone? Go back even further and pinpoint the spot where you started to feel restless. For me, when I locate the moves, themes, or plots that bore me in other people’s work, I am better able to identify the boring parts in my own essays (and there are many of them) so that I may refine or cut them entirely.

Boredom triggers are unique to every person. While I’m skeptical that there are people who genuinely enjoy Infinite Jest, I have been told they do exist, even if I don’t get excited by tomes with meandering narrative structures. My own examination of my impatience has led me to understand the things that bore me, particularly in nonfiction: long and flowing passages, sentimentality, navel gazing, transition scenes that could be summarized in one sentence. Inversely, understanding this fidgety trait has helped me identify my own writing tendencies: minimalism, short sentences, bouncing between ideas, and, most importantly, a focus on character before anything else.

Lucky for Jake, Nocturnal Animals drops its viewer right in the middle of character conflict, the kind of situation that naturally pulls me in. The film’s director is noted fashion designer Tom Ford, so a bit of visual play is to be expected, but I was never turned off by the artsy parts of the film because the characters remained at the forefront, always oozing angst and tension. Nothing makes me happier than when characters are terribly unhappy. I’m least likely to turn off a movie or stop reading a memoir when I am enmeshed in-scene with the characters. In turn, I’m most invested in my own writing when the focus is on interaction between characters. Even in this craft essay, I couldn’t resist adding characters and relaying a scene.

Take the information you’ve gathered from analyzing the experience of giving up on a piece of media and redirect that attention to your own work and process. When you’re drafting a piece of nonfiction, when do you tend to feel your interest wane? In revision, do you see yourself committing similar sins that bored you when you encountered them in that book or movie you put down? If getting to the climax takes too long, what does it look like when you open right in the climax and work outward? If the piece is slogging, what happens if you cut the word count in half? And then in half again? There is strength in working with one’s natural attention span instead of against it. If the author is bored, the reader is doubly so.

Because writing nonfiction, particularly memoir, inherently limits a writer’s material, we have to take what content the universe has given and use it any way we can. When I write nonfiction, I can’t create untruths out of thin air the way I do with fiction. The same goes for my writing process. I can only work with what I have, and part of what I have is an ever-decreasing attention span and a lack of patience. I choose not to work against the grain and force myself to work on projects I’m not interested in, or to slog through reading a book simply because it might end up being worth the time. Rather, I embrace my tendency to lose focus and turn it inward to look at my own efforts to locate, cut, or refine the parts of my writing that are not interesting to me. The craft should always generate joy in some way, and a good writer (and reader) should allow themselves a low tolerance for boredom.

Jen Corrigan’s prose has appeared in SalonCatapultLit HubGay MagazineThe RumpusSeneca ReviewElectric Literature, and elsewhere. Visit her at jen-corrigan.com or follow her on Twitter @CorriganWithAC.