What I did on my summer vacation… —Nothing!

doing nothing

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

Our society is obsessed with accomplishment. But doing nothing can make you more creative.  Why not try that this summer? 

Would you feel better about your holidays if I told you that doing nothing would increase your writing creativity?

I’m not making this comment just to help you feel better. It’s true! Holidays help creativity. To make sure your creativity flourishes, you just need to approach your holiday in a specific way.

First, while some beach time is fine, you need to do more than sit on a blanket in the sand with your cell phone in easy reach. And if you’re taking a staycation, you need to do more than sprawl on the couch and watch Netflix. You need some physical activity. But I’m not talking about intense action, like a 50-mile bike ride or a vigorous game of tennis. I’m thinking of more relaxing, meditative activities, like a stroll next to the lake or a gentle swim in an ocean or pool. You can also go fly fishing, kite flying, kayaking or canoeing.

Just don’t take your phone with you. Instead, leave your brain free to roam. One of the great ironies of creativity is that it arrives only when we are not seeking it. Your brain will come up with better, more creative ideas when it feels under no pressure to do so.

Here are some other benefits of holidays:

You’ll have time to do more reading. The best writers are always the best readers. One of my own secrets to reading so much is that I read a lot on holidays, sometimes as much as a book a day. When you are not distracted by work, and when other demands on your time are dialled back, you can read more. Take advantage! Even when I’m going for a walk or a hike with my husband, we each throw a book in our packs along with a couple of lightweight blow-up cushions. Then, when we arrive at our destination, we find some shade and a beautiful view, and we sit and read for at least 30 minutes. This is our idea of bliss.

You’ll have time to listen to more music. Instead of using your cell phone to keep track of work-related emails or to browse Facebook — ick and double-ick — use it to play a soundtrack for creativity. Music embellishes moods. I like Spotify (thanks to my friend Greg for introducing me to it). You can choose music in any genre from predetermined playlists, or build your own set. Better, you can download these lists so that you don’t need a Wi-Fi connection to play them. I have yet to be unable to find a single song or album. The price ($9.99/month) strikes me as reasonable and I’m not an affiliate so I will collect no money should you decide to subscribe yourself. Also, the first 60 days are free, so if you’re uncertain or just want to try it for a holiday, you won’t have to spend a cent.

You’ll be happier. Research performed by Jessica de Bloom at Radboud University in the Netherlands has shown that most people enjoy five benefits from holidays: their health and mood improve, their tension dissolves and their energy levels and satisfaction increase. But note her warning – these benefits disappear almost immediately when you return to work. So if you want to unleash your creativity, look to do it when you are maximally relaxed.

You’ll have time for new activities. Might I suggest meditation? Many people think they don’t have the time to meditate. For this reason, being on holiday is the perfect chance to start. Meditation will help you “let go” of concerns about quality and accomplishment. And this letting go will make room for more creative insights. Start with meditating five minutes a day. 

You won’t be overthinking. Overthinking, which is what many of us do when we’re trying to write, is the very opposite of creativity. This bad habit occurs when we rely on our prefrontal cortex, found in the cerebrum. It’s a relatively “new” part of our brain in terms of human evolution, and it’s the part that gets the biggest workout in school and many aspects of our jobs. But when we’re on holiday, we don’t need to use this part of the brain as much. This is a benefit because overthinking is detrimental to creativity and performance.

Being on vacation gives us the chance to try new ideas, new ways of thinking and new approaches to writing. Who knew that doing nothing could be so productive?

*

My video podcast last week described how to promote a book without social media. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

*

Do you ever do NOTHING on your holidays?  How does that make you feel? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by midnight tonight (July 31/18) will be put in a draw for a copy of the non-fiction book The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

Posted July 31st, 2018 in Power Writing

  • Chris Pady

    While I like all your points, and am also a big believer in doing ‘nothing’ on my summer vacation, I think your point about overthinking when writing is most poignant to me. When I find myself thinking too hard when writing, I know it’s time to stop or take a walk. My best writing, or my best writing ideas, always come out in a nice flow.

    • Yes, overthinking is toxic to writers. Yet so many of us try to do it so frequently. You are wise to stop and take a walk whenever you catch yourself overthinking, Chris!

  • Karen Koziol

    I like the idea of doing “nothing” even on weekends!
    One does not have to wait until vacations to turn it off!

    • I have a hard time taking weekends off but that is an excellent goal to have!

  • Emily Agnew

    I completely agree with you about really leaving it all behind on vacation…and am with Karen who likes doing nothing in the weekends. I don’t do nothing all weekend, but the “somethings” I do are not computer work…it’s outside stuff, physical stuff, and chores that take no heavy mental lifting. And I completely unplug for half the day on Sundays, doing nothing but yoga, meditation, etc. That makes an amazing difference. If I do office work on the weekend, I start the week feeling hung over. I used to dread returning from vacation, but taking weekends “off” this way has really changed that.

    • I do try to unplug on Saturdays. No computers! Just my pilates class and reading books!

  • Salud Garcia

    How beautiful it is to do nothing, and, then, to rest. – Old Mexican saying.

    Words to live by.

    • What a terrific expression! I’m going to have to memorize that one…