We creatives can easily get caught in the belief that we’ll get to our writing when all the other “important” obligations have been taken care of. We all have a perpetual and long list of To Dos, and many days the obligations and commitments feel never ending.
As a creative person who teaches other people how to realize their dream of creating through writing, I have to walk my talk when it comes to slowing down and making time to let the creative process happen. And this applies to us all, I think, because we’re all creating, all the time.
Some days slowing down might feel like a lofty ideal, a fantastical dream. How are all those must-dos on the To Do list going to get done if we don’t maintain our nose-to-the-grindstone M.O.? The good news is it doesn’t take much to reap the benefits of a seemingly negligible shift in the day-to-day. Small actions go a long way. And the slowing down that’s required to allow for the creative process also leads to an inner vitality that can infuse our lives and our writing with a kind of intentionality necessary for continued health and success.
Here are six of my favorite ways to slow down and allow space to create so I can maintain a clear and persistent focus on my life and my writing.
I resisted this one for a long time. It felt too smarmy, too touchy-feely, and to be honest, I didn’t believe in its power. But two years ago, I decided to embrace it because I had nothing to lose. Literally. I was a few months into my move back to Portland after leaving two years before to travel around and house sit for long-term vacationers – my solution to having my teaching load drastically cut and no Plan B in place. (I didn’t see it coming.) I sold all my belongings – except for what would fit in my car – and I hit the road.
Fast forward to two years ago when I was back in Portland, still looking for steady work while I created content for my business and tried to wrap my brain around how to move from where I was to becoming a business owner. I had my clothes, a couple of pans, a plate and one set of eating utensils, pictures of my kids, a few books, and camping gear. I moved into an artists’ community and slept every night on a camping pad with a hole I couldn’t locate. This is where the gratitude practice comes in.
Was this the life I had envisioned for myself? Not by a long shot. But because of my decision to fully embrace a regular gratitude practice, I learned to feel sincere gratefulness for that camping pad and the blanket my son had bought me for Solstice the winter before. Every morning before I rolled off that half-deflated pad, I went through my list of (at least) five things I was grateful for that day and why. I embraced the idea that, despite having no evidence things were going to change, believing that they would and being sincerely grateful for everything in my life – small and large, easy and difficult – would make the difference. That’s when my life started to change.
Having a gratitude practice leads us to a higher level of self-love, which, in my mind, generates a kind of inner vitality that can’t be diminished. Learning to love ourselves like no one else ever has, ever can, or ever will is a halleluiah moment, and when we master it – integrate it into our being – we can begin to practice gratitude on a whole new level. This synergistic relationship between gratitude and self-love is magical. Each one feeds the other.
Now, every morning, before I sit up and put my feet on the floor, I still do my gratitude practice even though things have improved substantially. I now live in an apartment I love, I sleep on a plush mattress under a luxurious comforter, and my life keeps getting better every day. And my list of things to be grateful for just keeps growing. From my experience, I’ve come to realize that constant gratitude ignites our inner vitality – our verve to live our purpose – and once we learn to harness its power, there’s no stopping us from accomplishing our goals, including our goals around writing. Because, as I always tell my workshop and retreat participants, writing is an act of self-love.
As soon as I’ve completed my gratitude practice, I meditate. I do several short, guided meditations that I keep on my phone and that focus on a variety of themes. Other times of the day, I might do a more free-flowing meditation wherein I visualize outcomes I’d like to realize. I’ve often heard people say they don’t have time for meditation, but as the Zen proverb goes, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
I’m convinced that meditation alters time. Or maybe our perception of it. For me, meditation expands time, so even if I have a busy day ahead, taking time out to meditate leaves me feeling like I have more time to work with. When we meditate, not only do we “create” more time for ourselves so we can write, we also infuse ourselves with an inner vitality that shines.
Reverie is sort of like meditation but it differs in that rather than striving to go beyond the mind, we explore our minds. We daydream, and daydreaming is an essential tool to have and use as a writer. Consistently working this muscle will keep our imaginations alive and strong, a must for creating enticing characters and story worlds. When was the last time you let yourself sit, stare out the window, and nurture your wild imagination?
After living in Italy for a summer in 2001, experiencing the pleasurable practice of the afternoon riposo, and discovering the rejuvenating benefits of this practice, I’ve incorporated it into my life. In Italy in the afternoon, shops close and everyone goes home for an extended lunch and/or afternoon nap. Sometimes my naps last 15 minutes. Other times, they last an hour. And what they do for me is exponential. Not only do I feel more rested and clear headed, I feel I’m honoring myself and my body and its needs. And while I may not work in a nap every day, I practice this time-honored custom at least three days each week.
Psychologist, Dr. Sara Mednick says that naps “can improve brain functions ranging from memory to focus and creativity.” Naps can also rejuvenate our willpower and lower cardiovascular disease and inflammation in the body. Try it for a week to give your body and mind a rest and let your subconscious do its work. You just might get hooked!
Being in nature
When I feel I’ve been sitting too long, I get outside, even if it’s to walk a few blocks in my neighborhood. I live in the city, so getting an immediate nature fix isn’t always possible, but I’m blessed to live in a city with amazing parks and natural areas (something for which I’m very grateful). In Portland, we have Forest Park, Washington Park, and Mt. Tabor, to name a few. I can walk mere blocks from my front door and be in the forest or a beautifully curated natural area.
Taking a walk or a hike amongst the trees is a great way to slow down and connect with nature, which has its own pace. As Lao Tzu once wrote, “Nature never hurries, yet everything is accomplished.” The more we’re in nature, the more we can align with its rhythms and its slow but purposeful processes, and in turn, we can mimic its inherent and patient unfolding: a necessity when we’re working with the creative process.
Intentional food prep
After having been hit with some complicated health issues that include allergies and sensitivities to many foods, my eating habits have changed drastically over the past several years. Gone are the days of grabbing whatever is handy without any consideration of what it will do to my body just to stave off hunger pangs.
Now I have to shop for my food intentionally, I have to prepare it intentionally, and I savor it intentionally. (This is a great example of being grateful for a hardship that has led to me to more profound awareness.) I’ve learned that creating a relationship with my food is an excellent way to slow down and make room for creativity – not just from the nutrients I gain from it, but from the practice of giving thought to the food’s source (the people who grew it, organically, with intention) and the process of intentionally preparing food and cooking it, followed by the intentional process of enjoying it, slowly. (This is another thing the Italians have mastered.)
When we allow all of our senses to become activated around our food – the way it looks, smells, tastes, feels, and even sounds – we can’t help but slow down, savor the moments, and reap the benefits of better physical health and good digestion, as well as the self-honor that comes from knowing we’re treating ourselves well. What we put into our bodies affects our brains, so as writers, we want to feed ourselves with the best possible fuel we can find.
With slowing down comes an inherent intentionality – a certain kind of mindfulness – that can infuse our lives – including our writing lives – with calm vitality and gentle stamina that will keep us going steady and strong – just like nature – rather than producing through fits and starts of energy bursts throughout the day or week.
The tortoise and the hare come to mind right now, and we know who made it past the finish line. Whether our finish line is wrapping up the first draft of a novel we’ve been laboring over for months or simply getting a few pages out each day or week, slowing down to achieve a calm resoluteness is as essential for our own personal vitality as it is for the vitality of our writing practice.
What do you do to slow down during your day or week?
Heid, Markham. “You Asked: Is it Good or Bad to Take a Nap?” October 1, 2014. Accessed February 28, 2018.