Work & Rest: Trusting the Tension

typewriter on a desk

Last Saturday morning, I was sitting on the couch totally content. My baby was snuggling on my chest. My two-year old sang along to the Beatles’ record he picked off the shelf. My spouse refilled my coffee cup. In that lovely moment, I had a breakthrough on an essay. I had been stuck for days and then suddenly, without warning, two paragraphs appeared in my mind and rearranged themselves. A line break emerged, and I silently wrote a transition sentence in my head. With those minor shifts, room was created and new ideas started flooding in. I took a post-it note and jotted down phrases. The missing pieces fell into place. I would fine-tune it later, but there, on the couch, the essay was essentially finished. I didn’t set out to get unstuck when I sat down that morning. I wasn’t planning on writing at all that day. It just happened.

That unexpected moment of breakthrough, when my mind was seemingly far away from the task, is why I am fiercely opposed to procrastinating and committed to doing work early. Time is one the most important components of my creative process. There must be a balance of work and rest, which both take time.

A few days before the couch moment, while my kids were napping, a wave of fatigue poured over me. I could have turned on the television or napped, but instead I opened the essay on my laptop. The deadline wasn’t pressing. I could have put it off, but I hunkered down, worked and made good progress. Then I got stuck. I kept the document open and tinkered over the next few days, but ultimately stayed stuck. When the essay felt like it was hanging over my head like dead weight, I closed the document to get some psychic space from it. It was Friday night. I poured a glass of wine, watched a little television, and slept.

Then Saturday morning I got unstuck, but only because I had enough time to dwell in the stuck-ness. I wish I could say that when I’m stuck I have total faith in getting unstuck, that over the years I’ve built up trust with time as a necessary component. But no, every time I get stuck it’s a little unnerving. I get dramatic and think I will never write again. Then every time I get unstuck it’s a little a little miraculous.

My writing can progress without my conscious effort, but only if I have previously shown up and put the work in, wrestled a bit and got to know the essay. When the words and structure are living in my bones, bubbling in my subconscious, then I can allow for time to pass and rest to do its work, allowing the way out to emerge. My best writing reveals itself to me, but it’s stubborn. It works on its own time. Rushing and coercing doesn’t work. I seek the sweet spot between work and rest, between holding on and letting go.