Let it Rest: The Importance of the Subconscious Work

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As I work through goals and plans for this year, I have seen the importance of time to rest and think.

As a teacher, I always encouraged students not to procrastinate papers. A lot of people don’t realize that one of the problems with starting a paper or project late is not the fear that you won’t be able to write 5 pages between 3am and 7am. Rather it’s a significant loss of quality because you don’t have time to let it rest. You don’t have time to let the ideas bounce around in your head–both consciously and subconsciously. 

One of my high school teachers always included a day for our writing to rest in the schedule. We had to complete the first draft and then not touch it for a day or more. I went back to the writing with such mental clarity after that. The writing itself was fresh–I could suddenly see the good parts and the bad much more clearly. I take her advice to this day; I work on almost every blog post over days and weeks.

A lot of the work of writers is not the intentional writing part. Rather it’s the thinking–the thought that pops into your mind while folding laundry, the continuation of that thought as you’re walking or trying to fall asleep at night. It’s the way that a conversation with friend weaves itself into your topic. If you start too late, you miss out on the thinking part. If you push madly ahead, you’ll miss out on the thinking part.

The big difference between students who start early and those who start late is really in how far the thoughts are carried through. Those procrastinators often have incredible insights and ideas, but they aren’t able to follow them through because they haven’t had time to think about it originally, to write a little and think some more. To write and write and then let it rest before coming back. 

I have realized that a lot of life is this resting and waiting. And we don’t like it one bit. We would rather be doing something. Even if the medicine might do nothing, we’d rather take it than do nothing because it feels good to be taking charge and it feels like it shortens the cold, even if it still lasts five days either way.

I am learning the importance of letting work rest more and more–of pulling back and looking at my life and saying “What is working and what isn’t?” As I work on goals for this month, this year, and much further out, I’m seeing the value of taking time to stop intentionally working on my goals. Instead, I let them rest while I play with my son, cook dinner, talk on the phone, and take a walk. And I’m gaining clarity and insight as I do this.

Time to think and to rest is essential, and I think we miss the opportunity to go deep in our writing and in our lives if we negate the value of this time. I have to carve it out intentionally–to make myself stop and play instead of working and working and striving and striving. But I don’t want to be so caught up in the whirlwind that I go days on end with no time to reflect and look at what I’m doing and how life is going.

I don’t have a simple five-step approach for carving out this time. But I am learning not to negate the importance of thinking, waiting, and resting in favor of doing. It is important–crucial even. And it creates better-written compositions and better-lived lives.

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