This spring, I started on my newest novel…and have made very little progress. My goal was to WRITE, to get words ON THE PAGE because that’s how progress is measured.
Or is it?
It’s been so long since I started a new novel project that I’d forgotten a key component.
Rather than taking the time to dream and create, to sit in silence and let the story come to me, I’d gotten my big idea, jotted down some major plot points, roughly outlined some character sketches and dove “write” in (pun intended!).
I’d totally forgotten about the power of doing nothing to feed my soul. Instead, I wrote a few thousand words and proceeded to get totally stuck and frustrated. Then, I spent the last month beating myself up for my “lack of productivity” on this new project. And THAT always feels super great.
Why “do nothing”?
I totally skipped the piece of intentionally doing nothing, of staring off into space, with my journal in my lap, wondering about my characters and all of the “what if’s” that could possibly happen in the story. I’d forgotten to take the time to “talk” to characters, to feel my way into the story and get to know it.
Here’s the problem: you can’t produce a harvest without tending the soil and letting the seeds germinate. Plants won’t blossom if you only stick the seeds in the soil but never water, pile compost on, or nurture them. You get a stunted spindly garden that struggles to grow, much less flourish, and you certainly don’t get any fruit.
Creative work is no different in terms of trying to harvest without nurturing your ideas in the land of “doing nothing.” It’s such a fertile place for creative souls.
We live in a culture that celebrates and honors “producing” and powering through resistance. The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield is actually one of my favorite books on dealing with resistance to creating. In it, he argues that in order to “meet your muse,” you’ve got to put your butt in the chair and do the work. Our psyche will come up with all kinds of ideas and rationalizations for NOT doing our creative work.
In this case, putting my butt in a chair to do nothing IS exactly the creative work I needed to be doing, even if I don’t have a “word count” at the end of my session.
My spiritual mentor, Janet Conner, reminded me of this. I’m taking her course on Deep Soul Writing in the Mystic, and in this week’s class, she was talking about how much time she spends with her journal in lap, just staring off into space, or staring at the wall when she’s in the bathtub. That’s where ideas come from, that mystical creative place when we let our brains shut down…and do nothing. Janet calls it mystical theta and talks quite a bit about the science of it in her book Writing Down Your Soul.
When we unplug and quiet ourselves, our creativity and soul speak to us. And we can keep a pen in our hand to capture what comes.
This space is absolutely as “productive” as churning out words. In fact, I’d actually argue it’s more productive. I’ve spent time every day this week doing “nothing.” And I’ve been more productive on my writing project this week than I have in the past month.
I’ve spent my driving time in silence instead of listening to an audiobook or podcast and chatted with my characters.
I’ve had my journal and blank paper in my lap, and guess what? This new story is coming together. It’s gelling. New characters have tentatively reached out their hands to introduce themselves. Other characters have stepped back, not yet ready for the spotlight I was trying to shine on them. My job is not to wrangle them into submission, but to let them come dance on the page with me.
That’s where the creative fun in writing is. Actually, that’s where the joy is in any creative project.
The trick is quieting down enough to let the ideas come out to play.
I had just forgotten this.
How do you plan to “do nothing”?
You don’t need to take a whole week or even a whole day off to do nothing and open up to the creativity that’s burbling up inside you.
You can do nothing on a walk by yourself in silence. You can do it while you’re doing the dishes or driving. Have you ever driven somewhere but you have no recollection of how you got there? If so, you slipped into that creative space of theta, the quiet space that is so key to creating and getting in touch with your soul. Step into the silence when you’re at home, walking, or driving. Turn off the TV, the radio, and the podcasts.
I have always liked to sit with my journal in my lap in the quiet morning before my kids woke when they still lived at home. I actually wrote my first two novels almost entirely in those quiet hours while they slept and before I left for work every day.
Now, my days are more open since I work from home, and I can write and do nothing in the morning before I dive into client work.
You can also take a day on the weekend, to unplug, stay off your phone or computer, and dive into a creative project. When I’m quilting, I totally slip into the space of doing nothing. My hands are moving fabric through my machine in a repetitive pattern, and it almost forces my brain into a meditative state where ideas flow freely.
The bathtub is another great place to do nothing. I downloaded the entire 40 Days of Play program that started my journey out of overwhelm and back to my creative self in the bathtub.
The key with all of these ideas is to DO THEM, to honor this time doing “nothing” as totally and completely part of your creative work. THIS is where ideas live, and without ideas, there’s not a whole lot of creativity going on. There’s struggle, and resistance, and frustration.
So, do nothing, quiet yourself down, and let the ideas flow.
Let me know how “doing nothing” feeds your creative soul in the comments. It’s been working well for me this week!