Journal ~ Lying on the couch doing nothing (and why it’s important)

I am lying on the couch doing nothing.

At least, I was before the urge to tell everyone about my state of nothingness rose to the fore and I grabbed my computer out of the bag that’s never too far from my side.

Nothing. Mulling. Daydreaming. Writing in my head.

phillipisland

Phillip Island – south coast

This is one of the things I love about retreating to Phillip Island on my own. Much of my urgency to achieve things drains away and I descend into a kind of dream state. Time no longer matters and I drift from one moment to the next, very content to let it happen as it will.

Best of all — and somewhat ironically — it’s often extremely productive.

Take today for example.

Admittedly today was helped by the disappearance of a work thing I usually have to do on Friday mornings. But that meant I could sleep in a little, before taking my usual trek along the gorgeous beach into Cowes (green bag and computer in tow) to one of my cafes of choice, where coffee and breakfast were waiting.

Even though this is what I usually do (more or less) on a Friday, the change of location — the beach, the birds, the breeze — made it so much more of a cathartic experience.

And even though the coffee was a bit dodgy today, it wasn’t enough to throw me off stride. Three hours and a goodly sum of words later, I trekked back along the beach to my parents’ empty island house and flopped down on the couch to do… nothing.

And now I have a blog post.

Do you ever find yourself attempting to cram so much into your day that you take half an hour (maybe an hour, even) simply to map out on paper how you’re going to achieve it… refusing to acknowledge it’s impossible, even though deep inside you know there’s no way you’ll get it all done? It can make you a wee bit crazy.

This is where I was at before driving down to the island yesterday. In fact, I was debating not coming at all, because (I told myself) what’s the point driving for two hours just to do all the things I’d have to do at home anyway?

In particular, there was a bunch of work things I should be doing, client tasks both small and large nagging at me. Not to mention stories to critique for my workshopping group, blog posts I want to write (other than this one!) and fretting because it’s been over a week since I posted, my own novel to work on…

So, yes, when I looked at all this stuff I had to do, I thought I might as well stay home.
But I’d earmarked these few days for a retreat a while back, and my brain just kept juggling all the stuff, including the fact I’d be relocating to do them.

So I went with it.

And yesterday was frustrating, because I left home much later than I wanted to (than I’d planned to), but the moment I got here, all the pressure to tick tick tick the boxes seemed to fade into the ether…

No more crazy.

Okay, so I was lying on the couch just now, trying to rev myself up into doing one of the work things, now that I’ve at least got some words down (and it’s been an abortive week for writing for various reasons), and maybe I still will (with a glass of red to help), or maybe I won’t (I’ll still have the red); but just lounging and mulling for half an hour or so seemed to be hitting the mark.

I recently heard these periods of downtime labelled white space (via a great article on Writer Unboxed advocating daily naps!). Nor is this the first time I’ve expounded the virtues of taking time out at Phillip Island for a few days to refill the creative well.

But I do think I underestimated how beneficial to my overall mental health these retreats are for me — with or without company. I haven’t had a holiday this year, other than a few days here and there. It’s been a year of juggling priorities — work that pays the bills with writing with the whole business-owner learning curve — and I’ve been very focused on productivity.

My work days tend to be very structured (albeit flexibly), designed to ensure I’m achieving as much as possible. I suppose it’s the only way, as a freelancer, that I would indeed achieve anything.

But it does make it hard to relax, even at those times I’m meeting friends or family for coffee. In the back of my mind, the clock is ticking and I’m not being productive. If I can’t put it in my timesheet, it’s “wasted” time.

Not when I retreat to Phillip Island though. There’s a sign in the main street in Cowes that says, “Relax, you’re on island time”. That’s exactly how I feel! I can have a completely unstructured day and that’s okay.

Better than okay.

Because it doesn’t actually matter if I don’t get all that stuff done. The world will not end. (Gee, I really need to chill out!)


Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I feel it’s past time for a progress update on the novel revision I’ve been working on. My last check-in occurred when I decided to strip back events in the middle section, rather than expand upon them. I think this is going pretty well.

It did involve some post-it note planning and rather a lot of scene juggling, but I’ve finally figured out an order of events that works (I think). So for the past two months, I’ve been making good progress — in quality if not quantity. The new middle section bears some resemblance to the original, but there is also a lot that is new — essentially a deeper treatment of those elements I’m retaining. And I’ve introduced a new sexy character who is a claithwielder. Yum.

What do you to take time out? How often do you stop to smell the roses?

7 comments

  1. Sounds like what I need is a trip to Phillip Island too, and funnily enough I was just researching the prices on Penguin Parades last night.

    I think the worst part of being a writer, and probably any creative type, that is combined with something else is the lack of structured downtime. There’s almost never an hour when I’m not thinking about what I should be doing, or what I need to do on my current project, or spotting inspiration for another project which I don’t even have time for anyone so why am I bothering to make note of it…

    Glad to hear you’re chilling out though. Enjoy the red!

    Like

  2. I so relate to this, Ellen. While structure is necessary (and feels supportive to my writing and other aspects of my life), I start to feel crazy when I get into “overstructured” days and often a shift to that lazy, daydreaming time you describe is exactly what I need — and the irony is, as you said, it actually proves to be productive! Thanks for this post, and glad to hear your novel revision is going well!

    Like

    1. Thanks, Jill. The conviction that it would work for me, based on recent experiences, was what made me drag myself down there, even when I felt like it was pointless. Glad I listened. I am really happy with the outcome.

      Alas, however, I now have to face all the work I shirked. Oh well!

      Liked by 1 person

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