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The Power of Doing Nothing

One of the most common bits of advice when it comes to writing is, “butt in chair and write.” And while I agree that you need to write no matter what, I only agree to a certain point.

Editing can be a lot like writing and, truly, editing, and this blog are my only reference points when it comes to writing. It’s where my experience comes from. They are my creative outlets.

Most of my best blog posts and my best revision suggestion come not from when I’m in front of the computer, but when I’m walking the dog, listening to podcasts that have nothing to do with publishing or in the car.

When I’m working on an edit for a client I obsess for as long as the edit takes and sometimes for days after. There have been times I’ve sat on a revision for more than a week while I process what I want to say and what suggestions I have. That quiet processing in times when nothing work-related is happening is when I’m at my best. It’s when I have those ah-ha moments.

As a society we spend too much time focusing on what we’re doing, on keeping busy and on the 10,000 hours of doing it takes to become great. What we often forget is that the moments of silence are when real brilliance happen. It’s when we rest our minds and let them wander that the big ideas happen.

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6 comments

  1. So timely, Jessica. Just last Tuesday I put the last word on the last page of my last chapter; the last chapter of my first novel. Writing the last chapter felt like its own singular, monumental project – so much on the line. But the actual gestation and formulation of it occurred while I gave it space to breathe. I kept two images in my mind as I granted it its downtime: yeast rising and computer defragmentation. Both fermentation and separating this-from-that happened as I worked on house projects, remodeled the backyard, made giant batches of Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce, and vegged out on reruns of a-simpler-time Magnum, P.I. All the while, background wheels continued to turn, favored images became emphasized, and worn out cliches withered under neglect. And then it bloomed, and the words came. Now I’m in the next hiatus; not diving into the edit for a couple of weeks so as to return to it with fresh eyes, or at least fool my eyes with a different font. ;^j In the meantime, I’m in the next phase of research: agents and querying, following Writers Digest’s recommendation here. I really look forward to this respite for my right brain. So your post is on-point. As it’s been said, music is what happens in the pause between the notes. Thanks again. ~ Sherry.

  2. I keep a soap crayon (the ones for kids to use in the bath) in the shower because it’s often there inspiration strikes. The Hub is quite used to seeing green scrawl over the shower tiles (I usually take a photo and then next time I shower rub it off).

  3. Interesting, Jessica. I always wait for the muse to push me before I begin writing. I admire the writers who can write 500 lines everyday. I wish I could be like them!

    I read an article about Agatha Christie that she only wrote when she’d thought through an idea. She still wrote often—her nephew claims she once wrote an entire book in a day. How gifted Ms. Christie must have been!

  4. So true! Both my poetry and my prose are enhanced by my time away from my desk. My ekphrastic writing professor encourages us to ponder in our time NOT designated for writing. I’m polishing a young adult historical novel I completed some years back. My editing is far more effective when I allow myself “flights of fancy” away from my desk.

  5. If you have a real bathtub, I can recommend spending an hour or so just wallowing. I’ve ‘written’ all my novels and my university thesis there, in my head, a few pages at a time. It never fails.

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