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The art of doing nothing (and how it makes you a better writer)

Have you ever felt guilty for having a lazy Sunday? Or worried that you should fill every spare minute you have with something productive?


In hustle culture, we often glamorise prolific and constant productivity. Many of us have felt this way, and for writers, this might be felt even more acutely.


But without meaningful rest, without occasionally doing absolutely nothing at all, your ideas will stagnate, your work will suffer, and burnout will creep up on you.


Even though it goes against what feels natural and logical, here’s how to master the art of doing nothing (and how it makes you a better writer).


Engage your senses

Let’s say you’re writing a short story. You might experience one of those rare magical occasions where the words come pouring out. But a lot of the time, you’ll probably stare at a partial draft with a sense of dread.


You might say to yourself: I can’t do this scene justice. My descriptions don’t feel real.


These feelings are normal and, sadly, they don’t fade with experience. But you can find ways to shake off writer’s block and get back to that flow state where the words come easily.


If you’ve been staring at a blinking text cursor for so long that your eyes hurt, stop. And go outside. Take a deep breath and feel the sensation of fresh air flowing into your lungs. Close your eyes and listen to the trickle of birdsong around you. Watch the clouds coast over the blue sky overhead. By doing this, you’re not only taking a much-needed break but you’re engaging your senses.

When you’re trying to make the imagined world in your story feel believable, your setting feel tangible, or your character’s emotions feel visceral, you need to pay attention to your own senses. And take in real-world inspiration to make your writing more immersive.


Taking yourself for a walk or simply being still in nature reduces stress and lets your brain work quietly in the background on the problem you’re stuck with. More often than not, you’ll return refreshed and ready to sink into your story.


Creative rest

One of Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith’s 7 types of rest that everyone needs is creative rest. This is especially important for someone who needs to solve problems or come up with ideas (hey writers, that’s you).


Creative rest can be defined as something that sparks childlike wonder, whatever that means for you, or immersing yourself in the arts.

It could be reading a book with the Netflix fireplace playing in the background. Or, if your mind is too cloudy to concentrate on reading, it could be wandering around an art museum, people-watching in your local park, listening to the entirety of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, or sitting on a beach and watching the waves roll in.


The win-win of doing this as a writer is it’ll give you inspiration. People-watching could give you an idea for a new character in your novel draft. Breathing in sea air could inspire your next poem. As writers, we need exposure to the arts and new experiences to give us creative rest. But they also give us sustenance to produce ideas that excite us.

Meditation

You’ve probably heard people say they have their best ideas in the shower. And a 2019 study of physicists and writers found that ideas generated during mind wandering were more likely to be associated with overcoming an impasse on a problem or experienced as “aha” moments, compared with ideas generated while working on a task.

Mind wandering can spontaneously happen when you’re doing things like taking a shower or washing the dishes. To deliberately tap into that creative state, you can meditate.

Meditation not only reduces stress, increases attention span, and improves sleep, but it also lets your mind wander. Taking even 10 minutes out of your day to close your eyes and focus on your breath means you can relax, daydream, and percolate on ideas, which, for a writer, is essential.


Getting into the practice of meditation can be difficult at first. If you’re struggling to quieten your mind, try putting on headphones and listening to a guided meditation with a voice and ambient sounds to focus on.


The great thing about the art of doing nothing is that it’s yours to design. You can create your own practices and rituals that fill your cup and ease you along into the headspace you need to be in to produce quality work.


It’s a running joke that writers procrastinate. And we do! But sometimes it’s exactly what we need to do.


Would you like to read more from Sophie? Wander over to her website to learn more.

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