Tag Archives: creativity

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.

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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