Artistic Downtime

strawberry medley

Strawberry medley, mosaic in paper, work in progress,

I’ve hit a wall with writing. It’s not writer’s block; I’m bombarded moment to moment with ideas for working the plot and characters of the novel, on both a spiritual and practical front. I simply cannot write. I’m too tired.

As an artist, I’ve found the notion of taking breaks, having downtime, to be extremely confusing. I worked my ass off as a journalist, running around big cities like Tokyo and London BEFORE the internet, when you had to be a gum shoe to get information from sources. And even then, after a week off, I’d pop right up and be ready for another wild and maddening year.

Creative downtimes follow no such easy pattern. Downtown for artists is a completely different beast from vacations needed by full-time workers. As a novelist, you could write one page and need two weeks off! You could write a thousand pages and not need a break at all. I’ve gone years cantering at a brisk pace, and then I write a sentence that works like an acupuncture’s needle and hits some sore spot, and I’m down for the count for a week. (Is that too many metaphors for one sentence?)

There’s no rhyme or reason for understanding Artistic Downtime, and coming up with a philosophy can be really difficult.

Some downtime is about leaving the soil fallow for a replanting at a later time, some is about “Beginner’s Mind”, and some is simply about being triggered and tired from all the healing that happens when you write your truth.

Downtime reason #1: The material needs to gestate. Ideas are percolating just below the surface and need time to come to fruition.

Downtime reason #2: “Beginner’s Mind” is a Buddhist concept of remaining simple and present and innocent. You get too into a novel and you become hard assed and cynical – you become sharp with the language but you have lost the soul of the work. Go into the woods and meditate. Eat organic veggies. Come back to that innocence.

Downtime reason #3: Rest and regeneration. I cannot believe how invigorating artwork can be on one level, and how much it requires of you on another. I distrust people who tell me that writing or visual art never makes them tired. Or those who say that such sessions ‘shouldn’t’ make you tired. Hogwash. It’s hard work, both intellectually and spiritually.

You may have to honor that you need a solid month of putsing around before you can get back to work. You may even have to honor that you need a year! I’ve seen it happen with clients.

Meanwhile, while you’re taking an enforced rest, let the soul soar, be grateful for the glories of the universe, the planet earth, the creative force that has gotten you this far. Sink your toes into the dewy grass and review how far you’ve come over the past year, or five years, over 10. The only way through such downtime is gratitude.

I’m a writing coach:


One thought on “Artistic Downtime

  1. Carrie,
    This is such a great article. It reminds us that we have to take care of the creative vessel–ourselves–in order to continue to do our work. Thank you for reminding us


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