Most of the creative people I know have been at it for a long time. Day in and day out, they hack away at ideas, molding them, cultivating them from meer bits of inspiration and turning them into full-blown projects. For some of these people, the process is enjoyable; for others, the finished product is the reward, but one truth remains—they all work hard.
I should know, since I’m one of those hard workers. After ten years of writing, submitting query letters and getting rejections, only to write more, be rejected more (you get the point), I finally hit a wall this past week. The culmination of all my years of learning-revising-growing felt as if it amounted to nothing. I found myself facing two roads: the first, to shelf my completed manuscript and focus solely on editing my work-in-progress, with the hopes of finishing it over the summer so I can query agents in the fall (and face rejection all over again), and the second, to quit writing for publication altogether.
With these options, I not only hit the wall, but I slid against it and sat there in confusion. What should I do? What do I want to do? Is it better to give up my dream so I can live a “normal” life, where I’m not facing rejection letter after rejection letter, or continue on, being a warrior who runs into the fray despite knowing the slim odds of winning the battle?
As I went back and forth all week, I randomly ran into this Anne Lamott quote on two separate occasions:
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
Anyone who’s ever owned an electronic device knows the unspoken rule—if it isn’t working, turn it off and then on again. It seems overly simple, but it usually works to reboot the system and align all the wires that somehow crossed. I never thought of people in this way, but I realized it was genius advice.
Before this week, I’d be the first person to scoff at taking a break from creating. I’ve done it before, but I’ve called it by names that it wasn’t, such as laziness or lethargy, instead of seeing it for what it was—a reboot. That nasty inner critic would make me feel ashamed and flood my mind with ticking clocks and doubt, as if I would forever lose my creativity if I didn’t use it for a day or two. I realized this week that this isn’t true.
Whatever you decide to name it—taking a break, rebooting, unplugging, or filling the well—it’s necessary, and it can save your creativity.
After my week off, I’m ready to think about how to move forward. I have a clear head and an idea of the direction I want to go. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m not giving up, but the quiet time provided an opportunity to see that I don’t have to keep doing things the same way either. I can adjust how I work—maybe not so hard, or according to a timeline, but with a sense of fun. It’s one way my approach to creativity has to change, but without my week spent unplugged, I probably wouldn’t have seen things this way. Instead, I would’ve blamed myself for being lazy and not working hard enough, which doesn’t help, and only hurts.
If you’re facing a similar crossroad, where giving up becomes an option, consider going unplugged. Be kind to yourself. Your creativity depends on it.