Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 22, 2019

Change Your Path by Stepping Away

Christina Delay

As creative people, we often receive advice about the importance of taking breaks, walks, and time away to allow our creativity to simmer and rejuvenate. But I bet most of us have a really hard time actually taking time for ourselves.

I’ve found that understanding the why behind advice or recommendations gives us a much better chance of following through. Because we can then apply that recommendation in a personal way in the manner that means the most to us.

Scientific Evidence

“Neuroscience is finding that when we are idle, in leisure, our brains are most active. The Default Mode Network lights up, which, like airport hubs, connects parts of our brain that don't typically communicate. So a stray thought, a random memory, an image can combine in novel ways to produce novel ideas.”

Brigid Schulte | Author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time

Some quick facts for you:

  • Creative people tend to have greater volumes of gray matter in the brain, in regions associated with consciousness and self-awareness.
  • Research has shown our brains are more creative when we are in a positive mood.
  • Higher levels of dopamine in the brain lead to greater levels of creativity, which is why relaxing activities like showering can increase creativity.
  • Relaxing activities provide us with a break and give us a fresh perspective, especially when we are fixated on a certain issue or ineffective solution.
  • When we are stressed, our amygdala—the region of the brain responsible for emotions, emotional behavior and motivation—will shut down certain parts of the brain to prepare our bodies for survival.
  • Stress and uncertainty lead to conventional choices, causing us to overlook creative solutions and avoid taking risks.

“To unleash creativity, it is important to free ourselves occasionally from rigid structure and routine, and to always be open to experience.”

Scott Kaufman | Author of "Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind"

So now that you’ve heard from the scientists, let’s take a look at what some great creative minds have said.

Creative Genius

Many creative minds through history have engaged with different types of stepping away for creative inspiration.

Actor and Director Woody Allen

“I’ll stand there with steaming hot water coming down for thirty minutes, forty-five minutes, just thinking out ideas and working on plot.”

A hot shower can definitely be a type of mini-retreat. Have you ever thought about how many ideas come to you while you’re showering? It’s because you have very little distractions in there. No phone, no email, no books to read. Your mind has the space to engage with the creative parts of your brain and begin to solve the story puzzles you’ve given it.

Nikola Tesla

Tesla stumbled upon the idea of alternating electric currents while on a leisurely stroll and used his walking stick to draw the idea to his friend.

Going for a walk is also a type of mini-retreat. Taking time to disengage from your daily responsibilities allows your brain the space it needs to do the deeper work.

Austrian Composer Wolfgang Mozart

"When I am … completely myself, entirely alone … or during the night when I cannot sleep, it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly."

Granted, I think Mozart dealt with some insomnia; however, he was also disciplined about using the quiet moments he was given. Rather than toss and turn, he used those sleepless nights for idea generation. Rather than overstuffing his schedule, he allowed himself moments of being alone ... being completely himself.

Novelist Stephen King

“Like your bedroom, your writing room should be private, a place where you go to dream.”

Stephen King has admitted to regularly engaging in "constructive daydreaming" to enhance his creativity and free his mind from everyday rational thinking. In addition, he’s created a writing space that is free of distractions and also allows himself time to daydream.

When is the last time you lost yourself in a daydream?

"Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes...Including you."

Anne Lamott, well-known author

I think this is probably one of the hardest things as an adult to do. Because there is this inherent guilt for "sitting there and doing nothing."

However, science and creative minds have proven that we need this idleness, this ‘doing nothing’ to allow our brains the space to do deep work.

A challenge for you

This week, I’d like you to write yourself a permission slip and post it somewhere in your writing space. Give yourself permission to do nothing, and to do it guilt free. I’ve laid out some ways in which you can do this "nothing," or you can come up with your own that works for you.

If you do anything this week, do nothing. Your creativity and your stories, will thank you.

About Christina

Christina Delay is the hostess of Cruising Writers and the brand new Creative Wellness Retreats as well as an award-winning author represented by Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency. She may also have a new supernatural mystery series out with Jules Lynn under a pen name.

When she's not cruising the Caribbean, she's dreaming up new writing retreats to take talented authors on or giving into the demands of imaginary people to tell their stories.

About Cruising Writers

Cruising Writers brings writers together with bestselling authors, an agent, and a world-renowned writing craft instructor writing retreats around the world. Cruise with us to the Bahamas this November with Alexandra Sokoloff of the internationally-renowned Screenwriting Tricks for Fiction Authors, Kerry Anne King – Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestselling author, and Michelle Grajkowski of 3 Seas Literary.

22 comments on “Change Your Path by Stepping Away”

  1. This truly was an innovative and interesting article. I have such a writing room. Far at the back of my house, only my two dogs are allowed to be there with me. I have a desk, computer, printer and a day bed. And time to be myself or to write.

  2. Timely post for me - Friday, I'm turning in my second proposal, and taking the summer OFF!
    Well, as much as I'm capable of, anyway. I'm going to be playing with the book I'm dying to write, but NO deadlines feels like heaven. I've been on a hamster wheel.

  3. I have a writing room, but I will say it can be distracting with 3 cats coming and going as they do. I do get some of my best ideas in the shower and this Christmas my DIL gave me the best present you could give a writer - a waterproof notepad and pencils. I'd share a picture here if I could figure out how to do that lol. You can find them on Amazon. I love it!

    1. Pets can be very distracting muses. I enjoy my puppy in my office, but he's old with stomach problems, so can be a bit distracting himself. There are days when he's grounded from my office :). And a waterproof notepad? What is this magic?!

  4. I have understood the need to disengage periodically and refresh, but not the physiology behind it. I appreciated hearing that angle and loved the quote from authors. Thank you for this perspective.

  5. So true. I just mentioned on my blog stepping away from my work until I feel its creatively finished before posting. I see I'm not alone on this point.

    1. I'm so happy that you see the importance in stepping away! I'm not always great about it, but I can always tell a difference in both my creative work and my mood when I do step away.

  6. Christina, thank you. This is such good advice. I fell asleep last night figuring out how long the next draft would take, and woke up thinking about it. Fortunately, the cat threw up so I spent some time cleaning and that was a little break. All kidding aside, I needed to remember this and put it into practice. Thanks again!

  7. I'm bad at this, which is probably why ideas come just as I'm drifting off to sleep and then I can't remember them in the morning. I think it's a mother-guilt thing (as in, I'm a mother. Not that my mother makes me guilty...although...), if I'm not writing I should be cleaning etc. Oh God, I've just remembered I need to make scuba tanks for dress up day tomorrow.

    1. The mom-guilt is strong. But caring for your creativity is as essential as eating properly or getting enough sleep so you can be the best mom. Thinking about it that way helps me deal with the mom guilt!

  8. I need these reminders regularly! Even though I benefit from stepping away sometimes, it's so easy to look at your to-do list and think you could never do it. Except that NOT doing it is even more costly. Thanks for breaking down the science and including the inspiration!

    1. Yes, exactly! It's hard when you're staring at your impossible to-do list to think about stepping away, but sometimes that's exactly what we need to focus and re-energize!

  9. Today is my time for that. Instead I'm spending time reading blogs and stories from other people and spending hours just doing this feels so good.

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