Could not writing be a good thing?

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an article on NOT writing by Bill Hayes….

It amuses me that my topic for today’s post is a New York Times article carrying the sobering headline “On Not Writing.” Could not writing ever be a good thing, one might ask? OK, let me be honest here. I’m the one asking.

But, in fact, writer Bill Hayes, makes a compelling argument. I especially appreciate that he’s a certified personal fitness trainer. This is because I see so many parallels between writing and exercising. The need to do it regularly. The wisdom of giving yourself very specific goals. The benefits of working with a trainer or editor. (Similarly, I see many parallels between writing and making music.)

Here is how he puts it:

Don’t work through the pain; it will only hurt. Give yourself sufficient time to refresh.

How long should this period be? What is true for muscle fibers is true for creative ones as well. My rule of thumb in fitness training is 2-to-1: For every two days of intense workouts, a day off. However, “in cases of sustained high-level output,” according to my manual, full recovery may take longer. This is what had happened with me. I needed a really, really long rest.

Then I woke one day, and a line came to me. It didn’t slip away this time but stayed put. I followed it, like a path. It led to another, then another. Soon, pieces started lining up in my head, like cabs idling curbside, ready to go where I wanted to take them. 

I’ve always argued that incubation is necessary for all writers. Hayes simply endorses an incubation period that’s much, much longer.It took him five years to write his 1,75-word New York Times essay, he says.

I think it was worth the wait.