Intentional Rest vs. Shadow Comforts (You’re a Writer, You Need Rest, Dammit)
I had a tooth pulled yesterday. Not fun, in any universe. But it also went well and wasn’t that big of a deal. Minimal pain that could be easily controlled with Ibuprofen, very little swelling. I could eat as soon as the lidoicaine wore off, albeit slowly and carefully.
After the extraction, I texted my husband to say it was over and everything had gone well. He wrote back and told me to rest a little. Of course I will, I wrote back.
Hahahahaha. Because that’s really the last thing I had on my mind. I had manuscripts to read for a meeting that night and a column to write and submit to The Writing Cooperative on Medium. So yeah, I didn’t really end up resting.
But here’s the deal: I should have. Because instead of taking the time to relax with a book and maybe nod off for a while, I fought tiredness and distraction all afternoon. And for me tiredness and distraction comes in the form of what Jen Loudon calls shadow comforts. As in, scanning the digital front page of the New York Times for interesting articles. Reading an article in a favorite knitting blog. Checking in on the day’s news. Looking one more time to see if anybody has emailed me. And then remembering I was in the middle of writing an article.
Clearly, going down the internet rabbit hole is a huge shadow comfort for me. Today, even though I’m pretty much all over the tooth thing, I took the opposite tack. I was feeling a little sleepy after lunch so I repaired to my bed to read (I’m trying to finish Book #4 in the Maisie Dobbs series–Messenger of Truth) and also to doze for a bit. I came back to my office totally refreshed and ready to dive into the work–which I’ve been doing, without distraction for a couple of hours now.
There’s a whole thing going around in the writing community these days about how we should write fast and produce a ton. That’s all well and good–I actually like writing fast (with lots of time for editing built in after). But I am here to suggest that writing fast happens much more easily with a clear mind. And these days we are hammered with information from all angles. The statistics on how much information we process a day compared to even a few years ago are astounding. (This article has some stats that will blow your mind–and it is already a couple of years old.)
Yet we are trained culturally to be strong, to kick ass, to keep going, to feel the burn. Resting is seen as a weakness. One should only admit to being tired in the same breath as exclaiming how busy one is. I’m not immune to this and I bet you aren’t, either. While reading is one of my favorite ways to relax, its gotten so that I do most of it at night, right before bed. That’s because I feel guilty reading during the day. I’m not alone–this article by Austin Kleon quotes the director Paul Thomas Anderson:
“I still have trouble reading a book during the day because it somehow feels indulging… You know, like oh, my – this is so naughty. I’m actually reading at 10 o’clock in the morning. I think it’s just your upbringing – something about like you got to go to work, and you’ve got to – and move on. And still even – this is how I make my living. I still feel guilty. 10 o’clock, I mean – and it’s – but I’ve sunken into the pleasure of it – to think, my God, I’ve got my life in a way where I can read a book in the middle of the day.”
Can you related to that? I sure can. But, besides the fact that reading is a huge part of a writer’s job description, you also need to relax. So give yourself a break and get some rest. Intentional rest. Read, or meditate, or take a little snooze.
I’d love to hear about how you intentionally rest.
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