Bad Advice Wednesday: Take a Day Off, Really Off

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

1 comment

Loafing Zone

Carl Jung would take two weeks off from everything and take vacations in order to dream.  Because he knew as we all do that dreams come most vivid when we’re relaxed and receptive, also that they come when we’re asleep.  Even the memory of dreams takes lassitude–you can’t get that thread back once you’re fully awake, the ice skates that helped you fly to see your farm (the farm you don’t have).

So loaf and invite your soul. This exercise will be very difficult for most writers (except perhaps certain college students I know, who had better skip it), but I recommend it highly. Spend your writing time this morning or afternoon or evening just doing nothing. You’ll want to pick a place where no one will bother you at your task, because people hate to see someone doing nothing and they will do their best to see you doing something. To them, quote Walt Whitman, as I have done above: “I loafe and invite my soul / I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.”

And let me quote Brenda Ueland, from her terrific little book If You Want to Write.

“So you see the imagination needs moodling,—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering. These people who are always briskly doing something and as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp, staccato ideas, such as: “I see where I can make an annual cut of $3.47 in my meat budget.’’ But they have no slow, big ideas. And the fewer consoling, noble, shining, free, jovial, magnanimous ideas that come, the more nervously and desperately they rush and run from office to office and up and downstairs, thinking by action at least to make life have some warmth and meaning.”

When I was at MacDowell (a great artist’s colony and retreat), one of the visual artists there, very successful, decided to use her six weeks to do nothing.  She could be seen wandering the beautiful campus or downtown looking in store windows or in the graveyards making rubbings not meant for her art.  She was thinking.  She was refilling the reservoir.  She was making sure the artist’s reputation for indolence was deserved.

Do that.  Not forever.  Just for now.  Rest your mind till it starts to work again, then keep resting.



  1. Richard Gilbert writes:

    Very wise, in my experience. Our culture and the human nature both conspire the opposite—the standard of Productivity and good ole Monkey Mind . . .

    I hope sometime you will write about another aspect of self management you referred to in your post about the life path you took toward art. That is the “low grade depression” that can afflict the lone scribe. I have been thinking about it ever since and believe it’s true, and have been wondering from whence that one springs. Best I have come up with, we are creatures of groups, and the lone artist works at his own remove and at his own emergency. A great day is, well, great for her or him. But how did it help make the world go round? Who did a jib and gave you a high five?

    This gets into aspects of ego strength and perhaps even healthy and not so healthy egotism. Was Picasso burdened by this self doubt? Doubtful. But he could make life a living hell for his intimates so he’s a heck of a role model there. Mega dittoes for Hemingway, who like many writers self medicated with alcohol. Since I cannot wipe my temperamental slate clean and be like Papa, even if I wanted to, how do I work with myself? How do other lesser mortals cope with year after year on the same work? It took Franzen 9 years on his latest novel.

    Just questions for your hopper, Bill.