Taking a rest from writing: One Sabbath day a week

When I was little, my dad and I read the Little House books together, and I remember being so impressed, but in a negative way, with what passed for a Sabbath around their house. Sundays were spent being bored out of their skulls — wearing clothes that couldn't get dirty, reading only the Bible, and attending, quietly, very dull church services.

It was from such pictures I got the idea that taking a Sabbath — one day of rest in the week — was unpleasant and tedious.

It wasn't until I became an adult that I grew to appreciate having a regular period of rest from work.

As a writer and blogger, my mind can whirl in a million directions at once. There are nights I can't get to sleep for going over and over nitpicky details about my site template's CSS code or the dialogue I want to tweak in my novel. When I finally do sleep, it will be fitful and filled with the same thoughts I had while awake — but completely unproductive. I'll wake up and think, "Yea! I solved my template problem. I'll just insert a penguin in … wait, no, that's probably not right."

When I start feeling unbalanced and edgy, then I know I need a break. But it's even more preferable to take one before I get to that point.

That's where the practice of a weekly day of rest comes in.

Unlike the Ingalls girls, our day of rest is a lot more relaxing and a lot more fun. It's a day to do what we want and not what we don't want. Maybe I want to write, and that's ok — to a point. If I'm writing because I feel I have to, then it gets shelved to another day.

If I want to do nothing in particular but, say, play Sims and watch junk on TV, that's allowed.

Chores are optional, as well. If I feel like doing a load of dishes because it's meditative, great. But if the thought of gathering all the laundry makes me feel anxious, then that waits for the next day.

What's not optional about our particular day of rest is spending time together. We've made a point of doing fun things as a family of three and as a couple on our Sabbaths as a way to reconnect and de-stress.

I sometimes also use my days of rest to connect with other loved ones, whether by working on sewing gifts that have gotten pushed aside during the week in favor of more urgent tasks, or by writing emails and letters.

I might also choose to garden, or work on a craft, or take a long walk. In the flurry of writing and parenting, sometimes I forget there is more to me, and the variety of tasks I can allow myself to do on a non-work day reminds me of the facets I don't see as much of.

Your day of rest could be any day of the week. We chose Sunday, because it's the day we have with the fewest built-in obligations. A pastor friend I know has his Sundays booked with work (no surprise), so he chose Monday. It could even be a floating day of rest that you schedule in each week as your calendar allows.

You could also choose not to have one day a week but more than one, or one day every other week, or one a month. Whatever recharges you and keeps you going is the point, but there's an established tradition by the wiser people among us that one day in seven is a good target to shoot for.

I also need longer stretches periodically to rest. We call these vacations. I usually have a lot of ambitions about what I'll accomplish, writing-wise or reading-wise or knitting-wise, on my vacations, and I usually accomplish nothing much at all. And you know? That's fine. By the time the vacation's over, I'm ready … to extend it. Once you start taking a rest, you'll realize it's not as antsy-making as you thought it might be. It's actually quite nice.

When I was in school and had a lot of deadlines, the idea of taking off one day a week seemed impossible. Now I know I could have used it even more so then. I challenge you to try, really hard, to reorganize your schedule so that a weekly day of rest is possible. This might mean saying no to some commitments and yes to your own need for peace. It might mean working ahead the day before instead of procrastinating. (Guilty here!)

If it's not possible to have a regular day of rest, then don't stress yourself more about not having a de-stressing day. Just set it aside as a possibility for later.

Keep in mind that a self-imposed day of rest does not need to be religiously observed. If you have a special circumstance where you truly must work through that week, then do so, and try to take care of yourself later with some extra recuperation after the crunch period.

Even when you can't manage a day of rest, taking times of rest within your day can be soothing as well. For me, when I eat a meal, I try not to work and just to enjoy myself. That means that while I'm working, I can be looking forward to that next mealtime break to give me a chance to reconnect with the outside world and with the pleasure of good food and good company. I also try to have a clear period of relaxation before bedtime to prevent some of those whirly dreams that distract me from sleeping.

The benefits of regular rest are many. I find less tendency to goof off when I should be working when I know there's a scheduled goof-off period coming. It also gives more balance to my days. Whether you work for yourself or a boss — but perhaps especially when you're self-employed – you need to know there are times when you're off the clock, when you can do something not for hope of financial gain or toward some lofty goal but because it pleases you. In rest, I become more aware of how significant — or, to be completely clear, insignificant — my work and my presence can be. It is in fact entirely possible for me to take one day off a week and have no one miss me. The world continues to spin on its axis even when I take a two-week vacation. Rest reassures me that there is more to my life, and more to this beautiful world, than writing. But it also energizes me and gives me strength to come back to that writing, to the work I love, and continue on. Rest, properly taken, gives perspective, balance, and rejuvenation. I think that's worth a day out of seven.

How do you take time off as a writer? How does it help your writing?

Photo courtesy Kevin Jaako on flickr (cc)


Kristin @ Intrepid Murmurings said...

OMG this is such good advice. I really really need to work on this aspect of my life. I struggle with procrastination and giving up on things because I am overwhelmed, and then feel really bad about frittering my time away doing something else that was supposed to be fun, but really was just guilt-inducing. I absolutely believe in downtime and breaks, but I need to work it in to a schedule more so I feel better about taking AND enjoying them. Thanks for the inspiration!

Kristen @ My Semi-Crunchy Life said...

Such a great idea. We have really been tying to incorporate this into our weekly schedule but have been unsuccessful. I know we'd all be happier if we had a weekly rest/fun day. Thanks for the reminder!

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