I hit a patch of molasses with my writing. Not stuck, but slow. Slow to get words on the paper. Slow with edits. Getting up from my seat bunches of times to walk thru the house, only to come back, keep working at an inch-worm’s pace. You get it. Slow.
Didn’t matter what the topic, whether I knew the material or what I intended to write. The challenge was not on the page, but in me. When my little-girl self sent messages of self-doubts, I finally stopped. A pause was in order.
The day was perfect for retreat. Snow fell in heavy, wet sheets, accumulated on the road. Makings for a hearty soup – lentils and beans and split peas, onions and carrots and celery, spices for flavor – were in the kitchen. Even when the sun came out and roadways cleared, I stayed in. I let the wind that whipped the door from my hand and frigid air that sent knives thru my jacket give me the final excuse. It didn’t matter what others did. The calendar was erased, and writing group rescheduled. I needed to find space inside myself.
Perhaps I knew what I needed before the decision, because I’d bought a wedge of my fav double-creme French brie the day before. I’d avoided cheese for many weeks because of allergies, letting wedges of fine cheese mold in the fridge. The brie was a treat.
I settled in, watched the first three episodes of Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ My intention to pause from all Doing. To release expectation, pushing, soldiering thru and focused attention. It wasn’t exactly daydreaming, but it was 100 steps closer than what I’d been doing.
When I felt myself breathe easily again, an article called “Why Idle Moments are Crucial to Creativity” crossed my desk. The article centers on constant engagement with technology and devices. How our minds engage differently when we look at a screen (external attention system) vs. daydreaming (internal attention system). The internal attention being our natural default network in the brain. And the place creativity comes from.
What I know. . .it’s not just about technology. We need pauses from Doing periodically so our creative juices can flow freely. Pauses are not stasis. They pull you out of the forest so you can see the trees.
What I also know is pauses don’t need to be long to be effective. Those short wanderings thru the house I mention are pauses. And when they didn’t work, I simply needed more time because the issues were bigger than the sentence or paragraph.
You can learn about digital detox from the article. Below are suggestions for building pauses into your writing and creative life. None of them include writing, and all of them feed your writing:
- Move the body. Take a walk or hike. Get up and dance. Do a yoga pose. Go to the gym or pool. Do the laundry, wash the dishes, dust, or clean the bathroom.
- Take a sound pause. Turn off all electronics and listen to your surroundings. Walk outside and listen for birds, the sound of water, leaves riffling in the breeze. Or change the music if that’s how you work.
- Pause from the work at hand. Put the manuscript or story away for weeks or months. Come back to it with fresh eyes and perspective. Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and I do this.
- Change the scenery. Take a new route than you typically travel or walk. Go on a drive to favorite countryside or someplace new. Go on retreat away from home, whether 15 min. a day, an afternoon, three days, or weeks.
- Step away from your active mind. Immerse in something that engages you emotionally. Go to movie, read a novel, a short story, or poetry.
- Engage in creative play, meaning create something strictly for fun without making judgements or thinking about outcomes. Paint, collage, garden, bake.
As your life goes, so your writing goes. Your creative life and life in the real world are linked. We all need pauses to create at our best.
Photo: Chris Ensey, open copyright
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