You’ll notice my blog this month is a variation on a famous back-to-school essay theme. While I can’t personally recall ever being asked to pen a “What I did on my Summer Vacation” essay during my school career, I hear it’s a common academic request. And I would have loved this topic! No one enjoys a bit of self-reflection and light musing as much as yours truly.
So this month, I’m giving myself the chance to reflect on another sort of vacation entirely—the elusive time that authors spend recharging between books.
I thought it would be good to track this time since it seems to evaporate so easily. The time I spend actively writing is carefully tracked and recorded, with vigilant attention paid to each day’s progress, whereas the time spend not writing passes in a speedy blur. Afterward, I often ask myself what I did during that blink of time between writing books.
My first observation is that I spend more time vacationing than I think! While two weeks of writing feels tiring and like I’ve run a marathon, two weeks of between-book-time feels like nothing. However, two weeks is two weeks and maybe I need to mark the time more so that I’m aware of all the time I spent doing nothing. Instead of making daily page count goals, I can create daily loafing goals, carefully plotting how much time I need to spend in my pajamas staring into space and how much time I spend reading. Maybe writing it down every day will make it feel more tangible and thus – all the more enjoyable.
My next observation is that I don’t really do anything between books. Oh sure, there’s that first manic rush to get out of the house and catch up on groceries, doctor appointments, hair appointments and the token run to the liquor store for a bottle of celebratory champagne. But once those errands are out of the way, I spend my between-books vacation time doing a lot of sitting, sprawling and laying around the house. I shuffle into the kitchen for tea and shuffle back to the couch to read. I cook better dinners and bake some cookies, but not necessarily every day. I clean the house, but not to any better standards than when I’m on deadline. Sooo… I read. Loaf. Drink tea.
Not exactly the dynamic recharging of the creative well you might expect. Or at least, if I was looking at myself from the outside, I would find this life-tempo just above hibernation level to be truly unimpressive. What kind of creativity is born among cracker crumbs and teabags?
Well, mine, apparently. And to justify the pursuit of nothingness, I bestirred my vacationing self enough to find vaguely scientific grounding for my lazy leanings. Right now, I’m earnestly devouring an article entitled “Enhancing Creativity Through ‘Mindless’ Work: A Framework of Workday Design” by Kimberly D. Elsbach, Andrew B. Hargadon. Take a look at this bit of wisdom gleaned from their paper:
Studies have also found that the processes of reflection and incubation are often difficult to achieve because they involve engaging in behaviors that often appear inefficient to observers (e.g., taking free time from work to think and stare out the window). As a result, Staw (1995) suggests that free time may be bad for morale (coworkers may feel as if the creative types are free-riding on their hard work), and there’s no guarantee that creative ideas will emerge from any one episode of divergent thinking or incubation.
This explains why the only break in my tea-drinking and loafing some days are the moments when my husband walks into my office, at which time I might dive for the laptop and start typing away to give the illusion of constructive activity. Because truly, who doesn’t feel at least a smidgen of guilt over loafing the day –or, gasp, a whole week–away?
But I’m not simply reading, obviously. My “mindless” occupation between books is vital and necessary to creative work. I’m actually reflecting and incubating so that I can engage in episodes of divergent thinking when I start writing my next book! How brilliant does that sound? I must remember to incorporate these terms into my working vocabulary so I can better describe how I spend my vacation time.
Thanks to Elsbach and Hargadon for this helpful justification regarding my two-weeks of down time. I always felt like I needed some time to air out my brain between writing projects, but now I don’t feel quite as guilty about it. I invite you to reflect and incubate at your earliest possible convenience.
While we’re gazing out our windows, let’s brainstorm a few ways to incorporate some mindlessness into this week. What can you do to give yourself an hour of non-negotiable play time? Can you say “no” to a commitment? Enlist a friend’s aid to carpool kids and give yourself a day of no driving? Tell me how you plan to loaf this week and I’ll send one random commenter an advance copy of my August Desire, Wild Wyoming Nights to enjoy during your down time.
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