Why Doing Nothing Is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Writing

Happy May, everyone! Can you believe that four months of 2023 have already passed us by? Hmm…maybe I shouldn’t talk about that. Moving on…

You’re probably here because you’re ready to disagree with me. I’d be ready to disagree with me after reading the title of this post. But I believe it’s really, actually, scientifically true, and I’ll tell you why.

Recapturing an Old Routine

Interestingly enough, I was already thinking about how “doing nothing” has personally affected my writing before I chanced upon a video that backed it up with science. I’ve recently been wondering why my writing process was so much smoother when I was younger. I always finished what I started and almost never got stuck in the middle of a book. Maybe you’ve wondered the same thing. 

I’ve narrowed down the possible reasons to a few different things:

  1. I simply had more time to write back then
  2. There was less pressure; I was just writing for fun and didn’t know anything about how to make a good story
  3. I did nothing a lot

And of course, the last item is what we’re talking about today.

What Is “Doing Nothing?”

Now, I’ve never been a lazy person. My mind won’t let me be lazy; if I’m not doing something, it feels like I’m doing something wrong. (Sometimes, I feel this to an unhealthy degree so that I can’t rest, which I’ll bring up again later.) But when I was younger, I did nothing a lot more than I do now – and it actually helped my creative process.

So what does doing nothing mean? Funnily enough, in our striving society that praises “the grind,” it sounds like a terrible, terrible thing. Work equals success, right? So no work equals no success. But you don’t have to look too far back in history to find that this hasn’t always been the case.

I think of Northanger Abbey, which I recently reread, where half the day people just sat around talking with their friends and family. Sure, times have changed since then and we don’t need to go back to that, but I think they had the right idea. Today’s world is all about getting as much done as possible as quickly as possible. I feel this every day in my work; I multitask and do whatever I can to get things done quickly while maintaining quality.

Our society is based on competition. You have to climb, you have to be successful, and to do that, you have to do more than everyone else. That’s not what everyone says, but it’s what they mean. But this isn’t how we were designed, and it’s probably no surprise to most of you that it’s not healthy.

This clip from TED Conferences really opened my eyes to the science side of this problem. Our brains weren’t made for the relentless pace of this society. They were meant to do one thing at a time, to indulge in quiet moments, to self-reflect. And when we don’t give ourselves space to do that, we quickly tire ourselves out and stop our brains from delving into creative thinking.

The Effects of Not Doing Nothing

I can give you a real example of this from my life. I’ve noticed recently that I’ve started to crave this “doing nothing” time. It all began when I couldn’t focus while praying, no matter what I did. My brain went off in a million different directions, processing things that had happened the day before, coming up with memories from years ago, considering the future, and everything in between. 

I started to realise that the same thing was happening when I listened to audiobooks during my workouts every day. After a little while, it all clicked: my brain was wandering during these times because they were the only times that rest was allowed. This was a huge eye-opener for me. I looked over my daily schedule and realised that even during my breaks or free time, I wasn’t actually resting. During work breaks, I would prepare for my next task of the day by doing some research or getting documents open and ready. During lunch, I’d send emails and check the blog. During free time, I’d read a book, play a video game, or write some more. Sounds like I was being efficient, right? I certainly was, but I was also wearing myself out and stifling the creative part of my brain.

What Doing Nothing Looks Like

When I was a kid, half of my life was spent doing nothing, though it didn’t feel that way at the time. Over the summer, my favourite thing to do was wake up, turn on some Taylor Swift (I’m talking Fearless and Speak Now, here), and put together puzzles. Doing nothing.

I loved long car rides because long before I had earbuds, all I did was stare out the window and let my imagination run wild. I loved it so much that I was always disappointed when we reached our destination. Doing nothing.

When I went to bed, I would lay there for a while (purposefully) and just think. Many times, I’d end up creating whole stories in my head. Doing nothing.

And you know what? My creative output was better then than it’s ever been since. 

Create Intentional “Boredom”

So maybe there is something behind this science of doing nothing. It’s not an easy shift to make, both because you have to push past the “always doing something” mentality and because you might have to shift your schedule around, but isn’t it worth it for a healthier and more creative mind?

And it doesn’t mean you’ll fall behind everyone else, either (although let’s please get away from that competition mindset!). As you see in the video, rest gives us more energy to accomplish more and increased creativity to do it better. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about resting actually putting people ahead. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but ultimately, a healthy, rested brain is going to take you further than a busy, overtaxed brain.

Here are a few small steps I’m taking right now to create intentional “boredom” space for my mind to wander:

  • Buying puzzles my husband and I can put together
  • Listening to music rather than audiobooks during my workouts; it means my brain doesn’t have to focus on anything
  • Actually resting during my breaks
  • Driving without music and taking in my surroundings

Figure out what rest looks like for you. Turn off YouTube or your audiobook sometimes and just let your brain do its thing. It’ll bring you more focus, more creativity, and more happiness.

Happy writing!

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll consider donating to the blog, reading my stories on Vocal, and/or taking a look at my RedBubble shop so I can continue to produce free content!

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Photo by 胡 卓亨 on Unsplash

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When you write as much as I do, you have to take frequent breaks from sitting. A standing desk (not a whole desk, but a mini desk that will sit on top of my current desk with my laptop, keyboard, and mouse and extend upward) will allow me to continue working while maintaining that good blood flow to my brain. Thank you so much for your support that allows me to keep producing free content. God bless you! ♥️ E.J.


2 thoughts on “Why Doing Nothing Is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Writing

  1. Boredom absolutely can be inspiring. However, it should be boredom with opportunities. I’ve been in situations that were like inescapable boredom, and there my mind becameta very very bad place to be. I should have had a pencil and some paper, as it made for excellent material, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely! I hesitate to even call it “boredom” because I’m never bored, even when I’m doing nothing. I love taking in my surroundings (especially when I’m outside) and letting my imagination run wild. But you’re right, literal boredom that you’re trapped in is no fun.

      Liked by 1 person

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