The Art of Rest: the importance of rest and healthy working principles for your writing

Writing is a rewarding art form, interest and activity, but it is susceptible to stress and tensions like anything else. There are some simple strategies to help recharge your batteries, find an environment conducive to productive writing, and importantly give yourself permission to rest once in a while.

Stress isn’t just work bound

I took a long weekend off the other week and pretty much did nothing the whole time, including writing. I opted for a cruisey weekend to replenish my batteries and relax. To rest properly I needed to detach myself from anything looking like ‘work’. I did very little the whole weekend. I didn’t feel guilty about it – I just wanted some rest and that included from writing.

Writing, like many outside interests, can be like work. We can take it for granted in many respects; usually with artistic ventures you are your own boss, no team to worry about, choice of working environment. In truth though, the application of work principles applies just as much to artistic ventures.

Stress isn’t work bound. It can occur anywhere. Writing might be a side interest or it might be a full time gig, but it’s just as prone to stress, tension and fatigue as anything else. In fact, there’s some speculation that writer’s block is the product of the depression. The importance of looking after yourself is just as applicable to considerations of writing as it is work.

If you’re into writing, you won’t just consider it a chore. It must serve a better purpose. It certainly needs emotional value. The problem though is that its potential is utterly dependent on yours. If you start to flag, for any reason, chances are the writing will flag too.

Getting rest is important to recharge and rejuvenate. It helps provide creative fuel. Of course, you need to be disciplined about it. It’s all too easy to say that you’re resting when in fact what you’re doing is procrastinating. That shouldn’t detract from the need to take a break, just be mindful of it.

Self-awareness about your stressors and triggers helps immensely here. Be conscious of how you’re tracking and the warning signs. You might even find that these indicators appear through leisure long before they manifest at work. This all helps keep your writing on an even keel, and get rest when it’s needed.

A healthy environment 

Rest isn’t the only consideration here. When writing, consider the factors that make for a more positive work experience. You’re in a fortunate position because you have a great deal of control over your time, planning, priorities and environment. 

Choose a place with lots of natural light. I can’t over emphasise this enough. Where I work, I am stuck in a windowless office with virtually no access to natural light. I have to leave the office building to get some. I would give a lot for a window, even if the view was relatively mundane.

Keep yourself warm. You don’t want to be stifling, but make sure you are comfortably warm to work without distraction. 

Speaking of comfort, make sure you’ve a comfortable chair. Keep moving and stretch periodically.

Break up your work – Pomodoro technique is fantastic for this. Have a separate activity for those spare moments, so that you are not distracted. Keep off the internet for the duration of the whole session. If you write something and realise you need to research something to make the scene work, take a note and move on. You can complete that research another time.

Set the tone of the location as to what works best for you. What this means is, if you know you work better with classical music over, say, pop music, then that’s what you play. If you know that you get too distracted with music don’t play it. Work to your strengths, not a romantic ideal. Coffee shops are interesting ones – I hear lots of things to say that they conducive to good writing because of the background noise. For me, I’m not so sure, because it’s not the type of background noise I savour. I also find the coffee very strong in coffe houses and I’d feel compelled to keep purchasing things to justify my presence there, so it would be quite expensive. All in all I find coffee shops exhausting because they’re so busy. I guess my point here is to ignore the romanticism that is often applied to the idea of the writer, and instead apply what works best, for you. If you love coffee shops for writing then go for it.

We all get ill

People get ill. It’s a fact of life. We suffer from physical and mental illness. The reality though is that as a society we are really poor at managing illness. There’s a long standing stigma associated with mental health, and many misconceptions about how we can simply shrug these things off. Even with physical health though, we apply poor standards. How often do we have colleagues coming into work with a cold, potentially infecting the whole office? Many employers don’t offer paid sick leave, forcing low paid workers to struggle into work even though they are clearly unfit.

The point I’m making here is not to allow this societal form of employment masochism to impact on your writing. If you’re ill then recover and rest. Don’t force yourself to write because chances are you won’t be that productive. Give yourself permission to lay off the writing. 

If you’re worried about getting your grove back, then consider a set plan to re-build momentum. We suffer lots of unintended setbacks or delays of one kind or another, so having provision for delays in general is a good thing.

Ultimately, writing is a process like any other. You benefit from organised routine, and have the right environment to work in. Being aware of the impact of stress, and taking appropriate action to minimise it, will deliver benefits. Most of all, give yourself permission to rest, recharge body and brain, because in the longer term you’ll gain more for your writing.

The Null Zone

Just not feeling it today. A dull malaise. Probably comes from no blog yesterday. I think I overstretched and in the process couldn’t complete the blog.

So, yesterday. I thought of a post about fake news, but wanted to convert it to the office environment about dealing with rumours and gossip (particularly malicious). Instead it has turned into some of epic blog post, and fatigue overtook me before I even finished it. Now it remains unfinished, and I haven’t the will to finish it. Unfortunately, I need to finish it, so this evenings’ journey home is likely to be my means of wrapping that one up. Two blogs for the price of one.

I shouldn’t be so unmotivated. Really shouldn’t. Maybe it’s just nothing – aspiration for the better of me and I’ll finish it tonight. Let’s hope.

I had considered this morning’s post to be about motivation, particularly self-motivation, but I don’t wonder if it sounds a bit cliche. Nonetheless, I think I’ll give it a shot, but it’ll be quick because I’m. Not that far off my final station.

1. Set realistic goals, not ideal ones. At least, not at first. Want to climb Everest, but feel sore after walking the street and back? Perhaps establish a longer term plan. Me, I am trying to get some semblance of fitness. I go swimming 3 times a week. It was 5, but by day 3 I’d be knackered and virtually unable to move by the end of the week. Supplementary exercise (like walking the dog) went out the window (not the dog, just the exercise). So I was rarely managing more than a few swims a week and very little else. Now, at 3 times a week, I can manage that capably, and other exercise on top. Notice how having a realistic goal delivers the same amount of swimming as the unrealistic, but gives far more flexibility for other exercises? Less is more.

2. Pick the best time for you and make it work. I used to go running at lunch. It worked, for a few months, but then two things happened. One, my feet got incredibly sore after running, and my legs, making it difficult to sustain the exercise – hence the swimming. The other was summer. Too hot to run. So I changed time to before work. This too is the other reason for swimming – time. It was far too much time in the morning to sort the running, whereas the swimming is more flexible for me. Ultimate it’s about finding the right moment of the day for you and making the time.

3. Find things to do while exercising. Bit difficult in the pool to listen to music, but I preoccupy myself with mini targets of numbers of lengths. For other exercises I use YouTube or iTunes to keep me occupied. It also helps me have an artificial time set to complete everything.

So that’s it. Amateur exercise tips. Of course, I have yet to succeed in the long term, but I will persevere.

What shape am I?

Do oranges dream of being grapefruits and having more curves? Do grapefruits get jealous of oranges and their more toned bodies? Are lemons petite blonds of the citrus world? Where do limes fit into all of this? It’s all a question of shape.

I have been on something of a health kick these last few weeks. I exercise at lunch, mainly running, and my food intake has, well actually that’s stayed the same. The big difference is reducing my drink intake. Barring a couple of social occasions with friends, my alcohol intake has reduced to virtually nil.

The benefits are loss of weight, feeling good about myself, and no doubt my liver has stopped weeping (I’m sure I could hear it in my dreams, like the distant sob of scared and frightened child).

However, I have been here before, exercising, reducing food etc. on those occasions the benefits have been short term. It would be nice to reach a state of equilibrium where I can enjoy a glass or two of wine (it’s always at least two – who the fuck only has one glass of wine?) without worrying about my weight. Truth is though I have always slipped back into old habits, so my approach needs to be more long term than previously. I guess I am developing a diet that will last for life, rather than in terms of weeks or months. 

The problem right now though is that I really have no idea what shape I’m meant to be. I have been overweight since I was about 6. It probably peaked in my late teens to early twenties before I managed to get some better control on it. I first went to a gym in my late twenties which had some impact but not long term. Bouts of massive weight gain have roughly coincided with bouts of depression. In fact, as I think about it now, I have probably spent a quarter to a third of my life depressed. 

Anyhow, I depress, sorry, digress (haha see what I did there?). Body shape. I’ve never had a moment where I was happy with how I looked, so I have no frame of reference for how I will look if I get to optimum weight. Nancy, my long suffering but wise (cracking) partner, says that it’s more important how it makes me feel rather than some aesthetic consideration. Of course she’s right, but I grew up as a child of the 1980’s, the last of the Generation X. I still have these influences about ‘looking good’ (good o’le neoliberal culture). I have never – never – been satisfied or content about my appearance. I particularly dislike my chin and the slight Some days I actively avoid mirrors. It shouldn’t matter, but it’s a distracting thought that has lingered for decades.

I’ll have to get over it. Just as the exercise and diet is about setting up a habit for life, I’ll have to overcome a life long habit about I think about myself. Being healthy is going to deliver better dividend than looking healthy. Exercising that discipline of thought is something I need to fit into my routine. Chances are I might never be happy, setting myself against an ideal I can’t possibly hope to match. So I need to retrain my habit of thinking and move beyond the superficial. That’s the way forward. Be a grapefruit and be happy about it.