Life,  Writing

The Art of Doing Nothing

What quarantine taught me about creativity.

If there’s something we can all relate to right now, it’s the isolation we are experiencing at the hand of the coronavirus pandemic. Right now we are all collectively hunkering down and trying to be productive while working at home with pets, daily news conferences, and social media all vying for our attention.

When I first started working from home six weeks ago, I was incredibly overwhelmed. I was experiencing the grief that many of us still are working through for what the world was, while still trying to stay on top of an ever-growing to-do list. I struggled with what to do with my time — the anxiety of what my day to life had become coupled with a desire to “make the most” out of this time at home would claw me out of sleep at night and leave me staring at the ceiling wishing my brain had a “restart” button.

The pressure to make the most out of this situation was immense those first few days. I kept seeing comments about how Shakespeare had written King Lear whilst quarantined during the black plague and watching constant Instagram Lives filled with influencers working out while shouting inspirational messages. I struggled to even get out of bed in the morning, much less spend my evenings after logging off from work staring at the computer again for hours in futile attempts to “create.”

So in those first few weeks, I didn’t create. Although I am a writer, I didn’t write except for when I had to. Although I am a podcast host, I didn’t record any new episodes and relied on what I had recorded pre-pandemic. Although I am a creator, I did not create.

And it was glorious.

I spent the first several weeks of isolation making experimental dinners out of whatever was left in my pantry, taking long walks around my neighborhood, and luxuriously lounging on my bed reading historical fiction.

My evenings consisted of watching movies I had on my Netflix watch list but hadn’t gotten around to viewing, calls with family members, and the occasional glass(es) of wine.

Through those long first days of isolation, I had a gnawing thought in the back of my mind that I should be doing something more productive than this, but I squashed that feeling with another chapter or another episode. I didn’t let that idea of writing the next King Lear get to me. I gave myself space to just be.

About two and a half weeks into my quarantine life, after several weekends of cuddling my cats and surprising myself with how quickly a day of doing nothing can go by, I had a mental shift. I started to think about writing. I started to think about podcasting. I started to think about creating.

Soon I was working on a short story that had sat in limbo in my files for more than two years. I was submitting my work for publication and attending virtual writing workshops. I was planning a virtual workshop myself, hosted by the literary journal I co-founded, borrowed solace. Not only was I thinking about creating, I was creating.

My quarantine lifestyle has not changed drastically since then. More evenings than not I still give myself the space to watch reruns of The Nanny one after the other until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. But I finished that short story. And I’m writing this article now, despite feeling repulsed by the idea of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, as it were, mere weeks ago.

If there’s anything this time has taught me, it’s that creativity needs space. Forcing that spark to come won’t start a fire. It will leave you burned out. Just like a fire needs air to start going, so does my own creativity. There is an art to doing nothing in that it inspires something. Sometimes the best thing to fuel creativity is taking a break from doing and just being.

For creatives like me, taking a respite from your work won’t leave you unmotivated, it might do just the opposite.

So if you are like I was at the beginning of all this — feeling a desire to do anything but create — take a minute, an hour, a day, a month, to do just that. Avoid creating like your life depends on it because one day the switch that’s been turned off in your mind will switch back on, and if you take a moment to truly do nothing, you’ll be ready to start powering up to create again.

Previously published in The Creative Café

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