Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Nothing!

​​Would you feel better about your holidays if I told you that doing nothing would increase your writing creativity?

I'm not making this comment just to help you feel better. It's true! Holidays help creativity. To make sure your creativity flourishes, you just need to approach your holiday in a specific way.

First, while some beach time is fine, you need to do more than sit on a blanket in the sand with your cell phone in easy reach. And if you're taking a staycation, you need to do more than sprawl on the couch and watch Netflix. You need some physical activity. But I'm not talking about intense action, like a 50-mile bike ride or a vigorous game of tennis. I'm thinking of more relaxing, meditative activities, like a stroll next to the lake or a gentle swim in an ocean or pool. You can also go fly fishing, kite flying, kayaking or canoeing.

Just don't take your phone with you. Instead, leave your brain free to roam. One of the great ironies of creativity is that it arrives only when we are not seeking it. Your brain will come up with better, more creative ideas when it feels under no pressure to do so.

Here are some other benefits of holidays:

You'll have time to do more reading. The best writers are always the best readers. One of my own secrets to reading so much is that I read a lot on holidays, sometimes as much as a book a day. When you are not distracted by work, and when other demands on your time are dialled back, you can read more. Take advantage! Even when I'm going for a walk or a hike with my husband, we each throw a book in our packs along with a couple of lightweight blow-up cushions. Then, when we arrive at our destination, we find some shade and a beautiful view, and we sit and read for at least 30 minutes.

You'll have time to listen to more music. Instead of using your cell phone to keep track of work-related emails or to browse Facebook — ick and double-ick — use it to play a soundtrack for creativity. Music embellishes good moods.

You'll be happier. Research performed by Jessica de Bloom at Radboud University in the Netherlands has shown that most people enjoy five benefits from holidays: their health and mood improve, their tension dissolves and their energy levels and satisfaction increase. But note her warning — these benefits disappear almost immediately when you return to work. So, if you want to unleash your creativity, look to do it when you are maximally relaxed.

You'll have time for new activities. Might I suggest meditation? Many people think they don't have the time to meditate. For this reason, being on holiday is the perfect chance to start. Meditation will help you "let go" of concerns about quality and accomplishment. And this letting go will make room for more creative insights. Start with meditating five minutes a day.

You won't be overthinking. Overthinking, which is what many of us do when we're trying to write, is the very opposite of creativity. This bad habit occurs when we rely on our prefrontal cortex, found in the cerebrum. It's a relatively "new" part of our brain in terms of human evolution, and it's the part that gets the biggest workout in school and many aspects of our jobs. But when we're on holiday, we don't need to use this part of the brain as much. This is a benefit because overthinking is detrimental to creativity and performance

Being on vacation gives us the chance to try new ideas, new ways of thinking and new approaches to writing. Who knew that doing nothing could be so productive?


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of Your Happy First Draft. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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