When Not Writing Becomes an Art Form

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My mind the last few days.

This will be a short post because I'm very busy this weekend, Not Writing.  

Instead of writing, I'm reading, knitting, working on a project cleaning up part of the basement, working on another project cleaning up the driveway, doing the crossword puzzle, cleaning the house, enjoying an Independence Day neighborhood barbecue, checking email (of which there is little this holiday weekend), and petting the cats.

You know, Not Writing.  Studiously Not Writing, I might add. Turning Not Writing into an art form.

It happened this week that all my clients put off their appointments until after the long holiday weekend.  And I got caught up on a lot of chores, leaving me time to write.

Except I didn't.

I did all of the above-mentioned activities, but I didn't write.  Every time I thought about it, my mind reached a blank, white wall.

I've been at this game long enough to know that I need to take such a time of Not Writing in a relaxed way.  Why?

–Because my brain needs a break.

–Because big things are brewing in my subconscious

–Because I know once the time is right for me to get back to my writing, it will all come out in a huge rush that will make me giddy with joy

My job at the moment is to just go with it.  As I was pondering this blog post today, an email newsletter from neuropsychologist Rick Hanson came in.  The subject? Rest.  Here's what he has to say about it:

Tell the truth to yourself about how much time you actually – other than sleep – truly come to rest: not accomplishing anything, not planning anything, not going anywhere. The time when you don't do anything at all, with a sense of relaxation and ease. No stress, no pressure, nothing weighing on you in the back of your mind. No sense of things undone. Utterly at rest.

 Probably not much time at all, if you're like me.

Also acknowledge to yourself any unreasonable beliefs or fears about resting – for example, that if you rest you'll lose your edge, things will fall apart, you'll let people down, others will judge you.

 Now imagine a kind, wise, fearless friend looking over your shoulder and knowing both how little time you rest and your "reasons" for not resting more. What will your friend tell you? Similarly, listen to your own innermost being about you and resting; what is that still quiet voice saying to you?

Imagine the benefits for you and others if you listen to the support and wisdom of your dear friend and innermost being.

Then commit to what makes sense to you, in terms of nudging your schedule in a more restful direction, refusing to add new tasks to your own bucket, taking more breaks, or simply helping your own mind be less busy with chatter, complaints about yourself and others, or inner struggles. 

So, he calls it rest, I call it Not Writing, but it is one and the same.  And I've got to go now and do more of it.

Do you take rest times?  Or do you struggle with the need to be always busy?

11 thoughts on “When Not Writing Becomes an Art Form”

  1. The way you used “not writing” rattled my brain and out fell a page from William Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom.” In the very first paragraph he writes: “…and opposite Quentin, Miss Coldfield in the eternal black which she had worn for forty-three years now, whether for sister, father, or nothusband none knew ….” I don’t recall other specifics but I know it is not the only example of Faulkner pairing “not” and a noun to form a new noun.
    A weekend of notwriting would be good if I could do it well. It’s being caught in the betweens that piss me off. I write a little each night … some in the day. I need to seriously put a number on the wall and write that number of words each day. Sometimes I feel like I’m high up in a tornado. I see Dorothy and Auntie Em’s house go by. You don’t really accomplish anything, you don’t really do anything in a tornado, but that doesn’t mean you don’t feel busy.

  2. Thanks for that great quote. Faulkner, luscious. And the tornado situation is exactly how I felt when last I wrote–my brain and words going every which way. Since continuing my Not Writing (yesterday I finished the basement project), I feel glimmers of true clarity seeping in. My subconscious has shot me ideas for deepening the novel that I’ve made note of on my phone. I’m pretty sure I’ll be back to the writing tomorrow. And, I do agree, it is very hard to do the Not Writing well. Usually I obsess about the fact that I’m not doing it.

  3. Rest? What is this word, rest?

    I hear you, Charlotte. And this comes at a good time for me. I turned in a revised manuscript to the publisher a week ago and thought “Okay, now I can actually start doing some generative writing.” Instead I have been spending all of my non-dayjob time doing, well, nothing productive, that’s for sure. (Although I’ve watched some amazing Wimbledon matches.) You’ve reminded me that we don’t have to spend every waking minute being productive, and that it’s okay if we take a creative break now and then from generative writing.

  4. Life eats up our lives so quickly. When we take breaks from certain “tasks” that are a usual part of our lives, I think we feel like we are missing something. Even if the break is completely necessary. We see the clocks second hand sweeping circles faster as each minute passes. To me, that’s a little bit of guilt, and panic. Guilt because its something we always do. Being ignored in a way. Panic because, for me, I worry if I ignore too long- will it be difficult to integrate it back into my life at the later date? I somewhat relate this to my running. Perhaps that’s wrong- but here’s my point:

    My half marathon is 2 weeks out. I’m so ready. The anticipation and preparation is wearing thin on my usually skimpy patience. I’m just ready to be in that starting line, with the Chicago skyline as my running partner. Well. That and 30,000 other half marathoners. And while I a, completely ready for it to be here- knowing then it will be over terrifies the bejesus out of me. My training regimen has kept me moving. Running. Even when I didn’t want to- I laced up because I had to. And every time- once my feet hit the pavement, I was glad to be out there. I’m not a runner by nature. I have to really work at it. The natural way having a race on your calendar keeps you motivated is most times my saving grace. What will I do when my race is over? A certain amount of “off” time is always suggested after a race. 3-5 days. That terrifies me. Because I don’t want to lose what I’ve worked since march for. I want to keep going. I don’t want to stop. Because at a certain time after you’ve stopped…it can be so difficult to start again. Losing ground, in a way, is as much of a mental block as it can be physical when it comes to running.

    Maybe this parallel isn’t a fair comparison- but it’s how I see it. And that worry of stopping and not starting again- is what sometimes keeps me from starting in the first place. Both with running as well as with writing….

  5. Patrick, I’m so excited that your book will soon be out. Woo-hoo! And I always collapse and do nothing after I’ve accomplished a big goal so I do hope you allow yourself to take it easy for awhile!

  6. It is definitely a fair comparison. And do let yourself take time off after, your body will need it. Try to do it without feeling that guilt (which I know so well). My son just ran his first half marathon and afterwards had to travel for work. He got sick when he got home, so he had enforced days off! I know he worried about it, but now, a few weeks later, he’s back at it with no harm done.

    I’m so excited for you! Two weeks! Good luck!

  7. Don Williams

    How true it is that our old noggin needs rest as much as the old body. In my case, my brain is far more worn out than my body, which come to think of it, has seen better days! Even though taking a day or two off can make you feel a little guilty, the rewards of doing so surely outweighs it.

  8. Yes, and truly I’m attempting to learn to do it without guilt. I was good with it all weekend and now I’m telling myself it is time to get back to it! Thanks for commenting, Don.

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