In Praise Of Rest

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your work is to take some time off.

I am reminded of this again and again, but it always surprises me how much clearer my mind is after a break.

(Having had a few days on the road has done wonders for my clarity on this project and I’m super energised getting back to it.)

The break doesn’t always have to involve the beach and fancy drinks, though I’m not mad if it does. The break can be simple — a change of scene for a few days, your brain occupied by something out of the ordinary.

It seems to me that work should really be something seasonal.

It might be a stretch to call working with the seasons luxurious — I’m sure that work before modern inventions made everything available all the time was HARD — but I love the idea of the year having a varied rhythm.

Sometimes the season calls for you to go all out.

Sow that seed like your life depends on it.

And then take a load off and wait for life to do its thing for a while. Then it’s time to reap like your life depends on it. And then sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour for a little bit.

This can happen on a micro scale too. Maybe you’re all out this week, and you can pull back for the next one. Or maybe you’ve been resting up and recharging, and you’re ready to haul arse for a few months.  

This is a critical part of life in a creative field.

No matter what you’re working on, what you produce comes out of you, a harvest from the soil of your life.

Whether it’s technical content or poetry, sales copy or songs, when you come up with something to create and then do all the labour of turning that into something tangible, it consumes some small (or enormous) part of you.

And while there is often some reward for your effort, it doesn’t always replace the resources the work required.

That’s why creatives have dry spells — long stretches where, no matter how hard they try, how many of their routines and rituals they cling to, nothing good comes out.

It’s why so many artists buckle under creative anxiety, painfully aware of how much they’re going to put into a new project, and not sure they’ve got it in them.

And it’s why a tragic number of artists give it all up. The pressure of extracting some integral part of themselves over and over again becomes too much, and they decide that it would be easier to get a 9-to-5 than to be gradually eaten down to a husk by the work.

Most of these problems can be fixed by having a rest.

Our culture worships productivity. We slaver over the last book claiming to help us get more out of every day, listen religiously to the people who seem to be able to do more than anyone else, and obsess daily about what we’ve gotten done (or haven’t).

It’s not useful.

This fixation shuts us out of the regenerative process that would actually enable us to become more productive.

For this reason I am diva-like in my insistence on rest. Ideally, there would be a few weeks between every project. If that’s not possible, then a few weeks split up during a project.

And sometimes, I’m going to take a rest on short notice just because my body tells me I need to.

This shocks people. Clients are often a taken aback when I tell them that we’ll start their project after I’ve had a break, or when I send them the dates I’ll be away during the work.

Friends smirk and make snide comments that it must be nice to just be able to take off whenever I feel like it.

But I consider it part of the job.

My ability to produce good work is contingent upon my creative reserves being full.

Turning up to write when I’m running on fumes is like turning up to operate heavy machinery when drunk. It’s just not a good idea, and no one will get an outcome they like.

So, if your reserves are running low, consider this the secret handshake that invites you to the club of the rested.

Pick a week, that’s coming soon, to take a break. Even if it’s just the stretch between Christmas and New Year. Or the week leading up to Christmas, or the middle week of January once the post-holiday rush has died down.

Schedule some time for yourself and take it. Get away, change your schedule, do something different. Don’t do what’s been draining you. Do what fills you. It’s urgent, and you’ve earned it.