The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.
–Ernest Hemingway (from Rest: why you get more done when you work less / Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Basic Books, 2016).
I found Rest to be a fascinating read, and really useful after a period of feeling stressed and unproductive. Pang writes about the science of resting, the cultural history of rest and how it’s changed over time. The book frames work and rest as equals, and how taking conscious time to rest can act as “a playground for the creative mind and springboard for new ideas.” Rest is something more important– and indeed more essential– than merely time away from my creative work!
The book is full of great anecdotes about how great minds, from writers to world leaders, have used rest to become better at what they do. My favorite was the description of Winston Churchill’s habit of a daily afternoon nap (even during the Blitz); if he could do that when the fate of the free world was hanging in the balance, is anything I’m doing really more pressing or urgent?
Pang also writes about the benefits of a morning routine, and how that can even be helpful for a night owl like myself. I’ve worked some of his tips into my mornings over the last few weeks and it’s really helped me capture the relaxed creativity I used to enjoy late at night. The best steps I’ve taken are to not read the paper in the morning, and to keep my space dark and restive to begin the day. Keeping the world from intruding– ideally fairly soon after waking from the dream state– and getting to work while my internal editor is at ebb have really changed my attitude. And the amount of work I’m accomplishing in a shorter time, too! Keeping Hemingway’s advice in mind has also helped; that way I don’t have to think about what I’m starting my day with, but can get right to it!
Reading Rest was time well spent for me; I highly recommend it!