I recently spent a week at an Italian Villa-style home just outside of town. I was there as a house sitter, but it really was a sort of mini-vacation for me. The package included a small vineyard; wood heat; two ponds frequented by pheasant, deer, ducks and geese; two hyper bird dogs; and no cell phone reception. Now before anyone gasps in horror, know I wasn’t completely cut off from society. They had a working landline and wi-fi, though with the exception of spending a couple hours in the morning working on a contracted project I did exactly the opposite of what most writers would do in such a position — I didn’t write.
Instead I chose an activity I haven’t really engaged in for I don’t know how long. I read for the sole purpose of enjoyment. I picked up a book not to critique as a writer, but to experience as a reader. After I finished that book I selected another. As I read just for the sake of reading, I realized I’d forgotten how incredible it was to just sit still and be for a bit.
Late one night after placing more wood on the fire, I watched as moonbeams split snow clouds in half so I could enjoy the white silence without man-made illumination, and I pondered how I could allow myself to become so busy I’d failed to notice the little things — like a squirrel disappearing up a nearby sugar pine at midnight or the robin who welcomed the icy dawn with a lusty two-step.
The Pressure of Productivity
Many of my online friends are writers, so my newsfeeds are filled with updates and Tweets about coffee and word counts. In fact, if a random stranger were to look at our Timelines and Twitter Feeds they might wonder if we do anything but drink legal addictive stimulants, stare at a computer screen…and craft social media updates about our progress (or lack of it) and share links to other writer’s insights (or frustrations) about the realm of publishing.
Sometimes it’s encouraging to see what my writer friends are up to and I cheer them on; especially when I see their hard work pay off. Other times it’s discouraging; especially when I see their hard work pay off while I seem to be getting nowhere. It’s in those moments I most strongly consider calling myself a fraud and walking away from the entire business. But after scrolling through my newsfeed for another 20 minutes while pouting, clicking through a few more links, and try to decide if I really need to refill my cup again, I turn off my wireless and stare at my blank doc yet again willing the words to come.
It was during my retreat that the truth finally hit me. Yes, I really did need to fill my empty cup again. Not the cup that has a permanent seat to the right of my screen, the cup that sits in the hollow of my chest. The place where I feel the first tickle of excitement creep through my veins when I stumble across a new idea. The place where fear and dread plant their ice seeds when I think I’m about to fall on my face. It’s the spot inside me I dubbed my writer’s wellspring.
Finding a Creative Balance
I finally realized that in my rush for productivity I misplaced the sense of balance that comes from taking regular moments to just be still. It’s a concept that as someone who long ago decided to live her life as a follower of Christ, I should know to take better advantage of. During his ministry on earth, Jesus didn’t perform one miracle after another and move from town to town without rest. He made frequent stops to just be still. To get away from the crowds. To listen to what his Father had to say to him.
God himself didn’t create the universe in a rush and move on to the next project; He took the time to enjoy each step along the way to its completion. And when he finished on the sixth day, he took a vacation and spent time walking side by side with his new friends. (To this day I wonder if part of the reason He spent so much time relaxing in the Garden of Eden was partly because He knew there was a major war ahead.) The idea of just being still is an activity He continually invites us to join Him in, both in scripture and in nature. If you don’t believe me, spend an hour at a local park without any gadgets, you’ll be surprised how amazing you’ll feel afterwards!
It’s been proven more than once that when we regularly take the time to just relax our moments of productivity increase exponentially. Our mind is cleared of clutter. Our social meter is fully green (Yes, I play The Sims). And we can return to our writing with a renewed sense of excitement that has nothing to do with beating out our friends’ latest word count.
Now, I recognize that not everyone who reads The Writer’s Wellspring has the same spiritual beliefs that I do. However, I believe it’s impossible to take our personal worldviews out of our writing, and the need to find a balance between rest and work isn’t just a faith-based concept. When we rest we’re also reminded of the first rule of writing: Know your purpose. When we’re tired and forget our purpose in writing, our words don’t just ring false to us, something sounds off to our readers as well, even if they can’t put a finger on it.
If nothing else, my time disconnecting myself from my laptop taught me that is in moments of stillness I rediscover my connection with the Master Creator, find new purpose in my craft, and am reminded that while goals can be great markers to show me where I’ve been and where I’m going, I need to have balance. It’s the only way my writing time will be infused with a genuine passion to create instead of requiring yet another quad shot of caffeine to keep those fingers moving.