time out

I bought a little sign at a garage sale in Vancouver. It’s a quality item – wood painted a smooth, cool green, with nicely rounded edges and perfectly painted lettering. It says


and has two holes in the top corners for string so it can be hung on a door.

No one has to know what you do when you’re “working.” Dare to hang a “PISS OFF” sign on your door, as needed, to defend your right to regroup.

I lie to people on a regular basis. I tell you this in confidence. Since I consider writing to consist of myriad skills, from daydreaming and pretending to recovering from writing by lying on the bed and reading a gripping novel, I call all of those elements of my craft “working.”

If I know I’ll be engaged in the crucially important work of re-setting my brain after a morning of focused writing by watching a film with the curtains drawn, I tell people “Nope. Sorry, can’t do it. I need to work this afternoon.” I do this to spare us both the trouble of comparing notes about what counts as work.

I’ve found that my view of writing’s scope isn’t shared by most others. Before I discovered deviousness and lying as a successful ruse, I used to get into time-wasting discussions that started with some housemate or another saying something like, “Well, it’s not like you’re working. You’re just lying there on the bed staring out the window.”

No one else has to know what you’re doing when you’re “working” – but don’t kid yourself. If time-outs and daydreaming are part of your creative process, be honest with yourself about what those activities look like and how they work for you. Don’t crawl under the bed to whine, eat Ding-Dongs, and snort crack and pretend you’re serving your craft.

If you’re going to be a zombie, be a zombie in the service of your art. Be a temporary zombie (“Must. Watch. Funny. Movie. Now.”) so you can be a permanent writer. Be a zombie in recovery from practicing its craft, versus a zombie avoiding practicing its craft. You know the difference.

“Blow out the candle.
I will burn again tomorrow.”

Respect yourself enough to acknowledge that the writing goals you have and the writing skills you’ll gain over time require the edge of new growth. Allow yourself wobbly legs and tender shoots. Protect and nourish those aspects of yourself and your skill in the best, most fun, positive, and restorative way you know how.

Trust your body. It knows when and how it needs to regroup and refill. (“Me. Need. Nap. Now.”) By whatever devious means necessary, engineer time-outs that sustain you.

9 comments to time out

  • Grace,
    Was it you that originally introduced me to the phrase “horizontal yoga” (aka lying down)? I still use it to this day.

    “Nope. Sorry, can’t do it. I need to work out this afternoon.”

  • Love this, thank you for writing it. Having someone else say it, and say it so well, helps me to remember to be okay with my “lapses.”

  • I am so glad I came across your website. I receive your creativity prompts and love them.Thank you for all the wonderful posts about writing. I am just starting to blog. Do you know of any other resources for breaking out of having to create the perfect post?
    And what are some good ways to practice becoming a better writer when you don’t think you have what it takes?

    • Hi, Donna. How nice to meet you here.

      My gut reaction to your question about resources for breaking out of “having to create the perfect blog” is to ask you … Who’s saying you have to create the perfect blog? What voice is that? Is it from your past or is it a part of you? A MEANINGFUL blog post isn’t necessarily the same thing as a PERFECT blog post. … And who’s defining “perfect?” Could you define it for yourself? If “perfect” is some version of “meaningful,” then what’s meaningful to you? That’s what will speak to your readers. In my experience, and almost inevitably, what’s most meaningful to me (yes, I write these articles for myself !) gets feedback showing it’s meaningful to others as well.

      If you don’t think you have what it takes to be a better writer (yet), then who does? (Well, I certainly do, for one.) Can you find someone who believes in you so you can listen and learn to do it for yourself? Meanwhile, the absolute best way I know to become a better writer is (how predictable of me) to write. Anything.

      I REALLY appreciate your questions. I hope my thoughts help, at least some, at least for now. I’ll be thinking about your questions and will offer more (perhaps in an article?) if more presents itself to me to say.

      Power to your writing arm,

  • Great post as always Grace. :)

  • Melissa Frykman-Thieme

    Funny you should bring this whole thing up, Ms. Grace. Just yesterday, I found myself in just the nose up, eyes closed position you speak of, albeit inadvertently.
    What I thought was just abject boredom turned out to be kind of productive and somewhat inspirational.
    Here’s how it started: A well-meaning friend brought by a book about meditation for pain relief. (Yeah– Right!) in which the author painstakingly and achingly detailed each breath that the reader is supposed to take, how to take that breath, while thinking very basic stuff, with the understanding that eventually your pain will fade out. (I am a skeptic when people make wild claims about MY pain, so entered this realm with cranky skepticism.)
    Out of sheer boredom, and with a pinch of desperation about my pain, I decided to give Meditation For Pain a whirl.
    Well– as our elders might say– did I ever have egg on my face, when I found myself leading myself away with the rules of the procedure and the wings of breath. One is supposed to observe the mind-stuff floating by and label it as either “verbal” or “visual”, out loud, then let it move on by. I found that my mind was spitting out vision after vision, and that it was very entertaining stuff, in a laid back kind of way. And indeed, I was laid back on the couch, mouth open, having disappeared from the activities of the household, just grooving on what my mind was spitting out.
    Before long, GUESS WHAT?? My pain had diminished to the point where I wasn’t really obsessing about it any more. COOL.
    And to think that I might have been mistaken for a lolly-gagger, a napper, a Dagwood Bumstead in middle aged woman’s clothing.
    Once I came back, I realized that in order to have constant pain relief, I could just constantly be in the mediation zone, which will require that I be on the couch with my head back, mouth open, etc. most of the time.
    That’s where I’m headed now.
    Thanks for the nudge.

  • […] My lovely friend Grace has a talent for communicating her needs with aplomb. A writer who needs time to work without disturbance, she hangs a sign that states “Piss Off. I’m Busy.” (Read the rest of her post here). […]

  • […] disturbance, she hangs a sign that states “Piss Off. I’m Busy.” (Read the rest of her post […]