Secret to Creativity? Shut It Down

5 Aug

Somehow, without meaning to, I took an entire month off.

Nobody was more shocked than yours truly. I can’t remember the last time I did absolutely nothing, if ever, for more than a weekend. I’m usually that guest at the family gathering who keeps stealing away to write, or the one who cancels at the last minute because of an unmet deadline. I take my laptop on retreats.

“Writing IS my relaxation,” I tell the raised eyebrows.

Just over a month ago, I was building writing projects into an upcoming two-week adventure with my husband. I looked forward to the train rides across country to Denver and back, falling asleep to the rhythmic click-clack as the rails ticked by; sitting on a quiet deck at the rental in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, my writer’s brain inspired by the cool breeze and lovely view of Mt Werner; and then a week in the city, sight-seeing by day and journaling each night.

Ah, plans.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although I enjoyed every minute (my next three or four blog entries will catch you up there), I did not work a single minute during that time.

Flash back to the weeks before we left. I’d taken on a deadline-driven part-time job that requires a bit of a learning curve, I had accepted three different short-story assignments (fortunately with August deadlines), and nearly took a fourth that would have been due mid-vacation. I’d also been rushing through some editing projects and wrapping up two book productions, all while our family saw the youngest through high school graduation, an Eagle Scout ceremony, and preparation and delivery to his 7-week camp counseling job deep in Virginia’s woodlands.

Frankly, my brain fried. I began forgetting words, simple words like “mailbox” and “bread,” and resorted to pointing and saying, “that thing.” I’d stop mid-sentence in conversations, wondering where in the heck I’d been heading with whatever ramblings were escaping my mouth. I reached the point where just writing my name felt creative. I worried about my mind, and my work, concerned that I wasn’t giving my customers OR my family the best of me, and with today’s hindsight, I can validate that worry. But I pushed forward, because that’s what I’ve always done.

People count on me; I must keep working.

I felt particularly overwhelmed by snippets of story and blog ideas that tried to surface, an experience that used to thrill me but had begun to scare me, because nothing really made sense or led to a real concept. Knowing I had no time to address them, and no mental strength to remember or even log them in my idea file, I simply let them go. I felt like a mom at the playground, ignoring her kid yelling “watch me!” from the top of the slide.

Just hang in there until vacation time. Then you’ll be freed to think.

But that’s not what happened.

The moment I stepped aboard that train, I stowed my laptop under the seat, where it stayed. I toted it through the streets of Chicago and onto the connecting train, where I stowed it again. It sat idle in the Colorado mountains, in the Denver hotel, and again on the train home.

red rocks

Just a tease. I have so much more to tell you about! 

I tried to feel guilty, I really did. I at least jotted down a few fleeting ideas. But in truth, I enjoyed not concentrating. We hiked a bit, slept a bit, read a LOT, took in some of God’s most amazing scenery, and greatly enjoyed the company of family. (I feel compelled here to allude to our Beers Across the Midwest adventure, but only as a suggestion of blogs to come, and without the words “a lot” because the truth is never quite as interesting as the suggestion…)

In short, I rested.

Self-imposed deadlines passed, yet the world kept turning; words went unwritten, yet my mind filled with beautiful, coherent phrases; tasks I’d considered of massive importance shrank to mere suggestion size. I swept them away with a wave of my hand.

mount evans

More teasing. 14,000 feet up, I couldn’t imagine anything more creative than what The Creator has already given us.

And do you know what? My mind healed. Not completely, but enough so that I noticed my words coming back and that story ideas made more sense. I ventured out of my awkward introvert persona enough to have real conversations with people. Conversations with a beginning, middle AND end.

Back at home, I extended my non-thinking binge until we returned from a weekend trip to pick up Woodland Counselor Boy and deliver him to Middle of Nowhere College, just east of camp. I kept reading lovely words and letting my brain rest.

Sweet Victory!

I woke up this morning ready to go again. My mind is clear, active (in a productive way) and excited about being creative again. This is what a real rest can do.

When did I buy into the idea that pushing forward and staying busy would make me more productive? Obtaining rest between obligations is a concept that goes back to, well, the Bible, in Genesis 2:2, where even God rested. Sure, I try to honor the Sabbath by not working, but I realize now it was more a freedom from doing—my mind never actually took a break. Lesson learned. Getting rest is not about taking your work somewhere else; a true VACATION is a departure from activity. Its Latin root word is vacare, meaning unoccupied, and it’s in the same family as “vacate,” or “empty.”

We were meant to shut down on occasion. Think about it. Fields are more fertile after a fallow period. Athletes perform better after a few days off. Why shouldn’t our brains need the same?

Do you want your mind to be more productive? Give it a rest.


And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. –Mark 6:31







26 Responses to “Secret to Creativity? Shut It Down”

  1. Carrie August 5, 2017 at 5:48 pm #

    Rosemarie, you have such a gift for hitting the chord at just the right moment. Thank you for writing this and sharing it. It was prezactly what I needed to read this moment.

  2. Kae Bellamy August 5, 2017 at 7:22 pm #

    Good for you! Don’t forget to do it again!

  3. Michele August 5, 2017 at 8:55 pm #

    Glad you really had some rest! You needed it (and earned it!)

  4. Michelle Adserias August 7, 2017 at 12:19 pm #

    How comforting… thank you for your honesty! Same thing happened to me when we traveled to Ireland last summer. I thought I’d take notes and come home with piles of inspirational ideas. Nothin’! I seriously wondered what was wrong with me that, as a writer, I couldn’t find one story in such a lovely place. Your blog has set me free! We had a marvelous time as a family. That’s enough.

    • Portrait Writer August 7, 2017 at 7:01 pm #

      Absolutely, Michelle. Thank you! Just spent some time on your blog…beautiful writing! Looks like your creativity is right where it should be. 🙂

  5. crickett August 8, 2017 at 8:54 am #

    Rosemarie, God is obviously trying to teach me to slow down and rest! Your blog just confirmed what I’m learning about rest. I can so relate to what you were feeling before your vacation. I went to the beach for a week the end of July. I knew I was speaking at a big event the following weekend after I got back, but I determined to NOT work while I was at the beach, and it completely revitalized me. When I came back to work, everyone said, you look so rested! And God was faithful to use the time after I got back to help me finish preparing my talk for this past Sunday at this event. I learned how important it is to STOP and REST. Thank you for sharing this post. God used it to say, “See! This is what I’ve been trying to tell you!”

    • Portrait Writer August 8, 2017 at 9:00 am #

      How wonderful, Crickett! It’s like typical God math–always the opposite of what we’d figure by ourselves. :/ I love the way He works.

  6. writingtruelove August 8, 2017 at 2:03 pm #

    Discovering true rest is not easy for most of us. It looks as though God orchestrated one for designed especially for you.

    • Portrait Writer August 8, 2017 at 8:50 pm #

      For sure. My challenge will be to stay here as long as possible. 🙂

  7. beckysuggs August 8, 2017 at 10:56 pm #

    I appreciate your reminder to completely stop and rest at times. This is so hard to do, but I love these words: “We were meant to shut down on occasion. Think about it. Fields are more fertile after a fallow period. Athletes perform better after a few days off. Why shouldn’t our brains need the same?”

  8. Leigh Powers August 10, 2017 at 11:48 am #

    I feel that pressure to always be on too. I love the saying that recreation is an opportunity for re-creation. Rest allows us to rejuvenate and heal, being “re-created” in God’s presence. Something I have to continually remind myself of and discipline myself to practice.

    • Portrait Writer August 10, 2017 at 8:47 pm #

      I like that. Thank you! Recreation for re-creation. Nice!

  9. 2b14u August 10, 2017 at 6:28 pm #

    So happy your mind has been refreshed and ready to explore. I also hate it when my words escape me…it is as if my life goes from flowing words to a life of constant charades!

    • Portrait Writer August 10, 2017 at 8:49 pm #

      Exactly! And then I get those “understanding” stares. Well, hopefully I’ve cracked that code now. :\

  10. Josie Siler August 14, 2017 at 5:06 pm #

    You know, sometimes we just need a break. I find the same true with photography. Sometimes I just need to leave the camera at home and enjoy the experience. I’m so glad you were able to take a break and not feel guilty about it!

  11. Katy Kauffman August 17, 2017 at 4:29 pm #

    A whole month off. Wow, and you had some grand adventures too. Being so busy this summer, I saw that my creative juices dried up. I couldn’t quite get away, but when I asked God for help and spent some time with Him in my quiet time, He granted words and sentences, and a pretty good post came out. There has to be–has to be–time when we rest and draw close to God. Otherwise, we won’t be able to give as much to others as we could have. Thanks for sharing about your adventure! Welcome back to earth. 😉

    • Portrait Writer August 17, 2017 at 9:01 pm #

      Thanks Katy. Having trouble getting back into it, but it’s coming. Heading over to read your blog!

  12. Debra DuPree Williams August 30, 2017 at 4:38 pm #

    Thanks for this. I needed to hear that it’s okay to rest.

    • Portrait Writer September 3, 2017 at 6:12 pm #

      More than okay. Vital. Take care of yourself. 🙂

  13. Erin Unger January 9, 2018 at 10:34 am #

    It has been many months since you posted this but what a help to me now! I just finished a rest period myself. I had the same problem where simple words were escaping me. But I had a huge deadline in the midst of this trouble. I’m happily back to work and filled with words again.

    • Portrait Writer January 9, 2018 at 6:06 pm #

      So glad to hear that, Erin! Keep those words flowin’!

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