Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

How to Improve Your Writing In One Counter-Intuitive Way

From Jeff: This is a guest post from Carol Tice. Carol is a blogger who helps other freelance writers achieve success. You can find Carol at her blog Make a Living Writing and follow her on Twitter @ticewrites.

Do you feel like your writing has lost its spark? Are you burned out? All out of ideas for blog posts?

There’s a time-proven technique for refreshing your creativity, but few writers seem to be using it. Probably because it’s the opposite of what you’d think you should do. But it works every time.

Photo of a Man Resting on a Bench

Photo credit: Xlibber (Creative Comons)

What is it? Here’s a hint:

The first thing you do with any electronic device you buy is read the instructions. Right? (Well, you should, at least.) If you’re wise, you learn how to program the gadget, how to use it, and most importantly, how to recharge it and keep it from dying.

But do you follow the instruction manual for you, for your life?

You may be familiar with the idea that God created the earth in six days — and that on the seventh day, he rested. This is all well and good, but when we hear this story, we may forget a crucial point:

We’re supposed to rest, too.

This is the instruction manual for how to operate your mind and body. You need to take time out of your busy week of creating and just be. What happens when you rest — truly rest — is nothing short of amazing and miraculous.

I know this because every week, I take a full day completely off of work.

I don’t check email. I turn of all electronic devices. And I don’t write a single thing.

It’s wonderful.

I don’t even think about working. (This part is important). Just total downtime.

And it’s how I’m able to maintain a busy schedule of writing without losing my mind.

What happens when you rest

What happened on that first Sabbath? In the Hebrew, God shavat vayinafash. Which literally means God rested and got a new soul (or got “re-souled”).

Rest literally renews your soul. We’re talking creative powerhouse potential here.

But in our 24/7 Internet world, the art of respite is often lost. It seems impossible to tear ourselves away from the constant Twitter updates and comments on our blog and posts we need to write.

But try this:

For 25 consecutive hours, once each week, do not turn on any electronic devices.

I know what you’re thinking:

I’ll fall behind! How will I ever get it all done?

But the Sabbath is the most powerful tool for renewal ever invented. One whole, uninterrupted day away from work can feel like a month on the French Riviera.

By developing the regular discipline of resting, you can take what feels like a month-long vacation every week of your life.

And it will transform the quality of your writing.

Tips for establishing a rest habit

Whether you believe in the Creation story or not, you can benefit from establishing a rest habit.

It takes a little practice to get the hang of it, though.

At first, it’ll seem like torture. Your fingers will itch to check Twitter. Your skin will crawl to visit your blog.

But keep at it. In a few weeks, you’ll wonder how you ever went at it seven full days a week. You’ll have so many new writing ideas, you’ll hardly know what to do. Your productivity will soar.

Why is this? Because you were designed to function on this schedule of work and rest. It’s hard-wired into you. When you overdo one or the other, you throw off your whole inner balance. After all, we’re not called human doings. We’re human beings.

Time to start acting like it.

Take time to be

Take some time and remember who you are. Realize you have intrinsic value. Without producing a single thing. And for one day, know that you already have everything you need.

Appreciate what you’ve already accomplished. Laugh. Play a board game. Go for a walk.

Take time to work on the things that matter most to you — your family and friends.

Remember: Rest feeds your soul. It clears your mind of clutter and rejuvenates your spirit. It brings you back into alignment.

And this is where you do your best writing.

Time to get started. Time to rest.

For more writing help from Carol, check out her online writing course to help freelancers make money.

How do you refresh your creativity? Leave a comment and describe your approach.

*Photo credit: Xlibber (Creative Commons)

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post were affiliate links.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Anonymous

    But I watch youtube for relaxing :p

    • Studies have shown that watching screens in fact does not relax our brains in the same way taking in the natural world does — wear a mood ring and you’ll see you stay in an agitated state…just sayin’.

      • Thank you for this fabulous reminder that even writers need a real life. I’m heading back home to Montana to become a full-time writer this summer, and I believe God put your blog before me to show me that I cannot live my writing 24-7. (I’ve gotten used to working every day, as I’ve been teaching while I built my writing career.)
        I’ll use the 7th day to reconnect to the Big Sky Country, and the wonderful people there, and to my favorite hobbies of sketching, quilting, etc.

        God bless,
        Cathryn Cade
        http://www.cathryncade.com

  • I’m going to try this

  • Curious as to why you picked 25 hours.   Now 24 hours I am willing to try but 25 without  technology…that might be pushing it. 😉

    • Well, that’s how we Jews do it — Sabbath starts at sundown and ends when you see three stars in the sky the next day, which is about an hour later. 

      It’s partly because we don’t want the Sabbath to end…we’re lingering in it. You can actually continue the Sabbath until Tuesday if you can make it happen in your schedule 😉

      • Ah, now I see. I was wondering the same thing. I thought maybe the 25 was a typo 🙂

      • Thanks for the explanation!  I’ve learned something. 

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been trying this once in a while and it helps. Mostly when I’m few rounds down. 😉 Thanks for sharing your insights.

  • I started this practice as a weekly “computer fast” a few months ago. Is great in that respect. But how do I turn my brain off of all the projects I’m working on? That will take a little more effort.

    • It’s actually the hardest part of establishing a Sabbath — the part where you don’t THINK about work. It just takes practice to get out of the habit. But once you develop the ability to switch off the worries and problems, you’ve really arrived at true rest. 

      If you don’t work but you just keep worrying about your work issues, you’ve kind of defeated the point.

      • You’re right. 
        Me, I have to stay busy with something. For example, if I go to my parent’s house to have lunch on Sunday and my sisters are there, we can talk for hours and I don’t even think about anything else.Or if I go to the park to walk, I put on my headphones (I am still allowed at least one offline gadget, right?) and I disconnect from the world. By the way, that’s when I get a lot of ideas for my blog.But if I don’t have anything to do, then the only ideas that comes to mind are: check emails, check my favorite blogs, check twitter, check facebook, etc.

  • Thomas Vertrees

    Carol and Jeff,

    Thanks so much for this post. As I take a look at this last year, I find myself in the same place I tend to be year after year – that I am working “too much”. Not that the work isn’t important, but that I think I can always get ahead if I jsut do more work, when in fact, I might actually be able to get more done if I just learned how to rest effectively.

    Thanks for this reminder.

  • Thank you, Jeff! Oh my gosh, thank you! I really needed this reminder! I don’t know how it is we are so prone to so easily slip into forgetfulness of the concept of rest…I guess it’s all based on how we’re “supposed to” just crank our work…and more work…and more work…in this frenzied world that seems to require more than blood itself from us. Oh those “supposed to’s” can get the best of us…huh? Wow!

    I’m re-instating a Sabbath day starting this week…thank you so very, very much for this reminder today!

  • Anonymous

    This is so true and wise. And something I’ve wrestled with as writer of over a decade. Ignoring this advice cost me more than creativity: 
    http://www.larryshallenberger.com/2012/01/03/why-its-hard-to-remember-whats-true-and-the-need-for-a-good-tattoo-artist/

    • That’s a moving post, Larry, and another reminder to us all that we ignore our design and need for rest at our peril.

      Plus I loved Memento! Recently re-aired it with my teen. And yes, having young kids IS like being in a coma so often 😉

  • Anonymous

    Well, yeah, but look what God did in His six days. Maybe when I’ve done about that much I can afford to rest – oh, wait – I’ll never get there will I? So I might as well do that day of rest thing. Although, I’ve gotta tell you, words with friends relaxes me. Can I at least do that? Great guest post, Jeff!

    • No, the point’s quite the opposite. Even GOD needed to rest after doing the work of creation! How much more do we need it when we’re trying to create with just our mortal selves.

  • Nice post Carol. About the falling behind part, one doesn’t simply fall behind after not being able to check social media for a while. That’s why I’m not worried about leaving my computer for a day or two. I want to take a breather from staring at the monitor.

  • Very well written! You raise a good point, Carol. I find that I have the problem of not being able to switch off from work, that I constantly think of it. I’ll give this a try; maybe go outdoors and take that camping trip I’ve been planning for a while. 

  • Uughhh… Naturally, I’ve been thinking about the Sabbath a lot lately, and now this has pushed me over the edge. Guess I’ll do something about it…

  • The funny thing I find is that when you give God your time, He seems to expand it. The same is true for creativity.

    • No kidding! Done right, it seems like a week. I feel like I’ve been reading on my couch by the fire for ages. Just getting to nap for 15 minutes in the middle of an afternoon…it’s heaven. You bring so much back to that keyboard when you’re done.

  • Thanks Carol and Jeff. I needed this reminder. Your blog is terrific Carol.

  • I enjoyed a web-free week of rest between Christmas and New Year’s.  I read books, played cards with my kids, and caught snow flakes on my tongue.   It was just what I needed to re-energize for the new year!

     I have a renewed commitment to the disciplines of rest and celebration. 

    Thanks for the encouragement Jeff and Carol!

  • I have recently started doing just that, forcing myself to take one day a week off writing.  It is still hard not to think about it on that day, but I am progressing on it. While I may not be getting anything done on that day, I know I much more productive come Monday morning.

    • No, you ARE getting something done on that rest day. The most important thing of all.

      We all need to resist the 24/7 online-business culture, as it’s a path to an early grave.

  • Nice post. So true. Resting is definitely imperative. I mean, even a car needs an oil change to keep going, why not us?

  • Thanks Carol…I needed to hear this.

  • I started implementing this last month. I turn off all social media and email for one day, even turning off the notifications on my phone so that I’m not tempted. It’s amazing how much more you can focus on others and your own life when you’re not distracted. 

    • I’m still trying to talk my family into unplugging the phone again…we used to do it and need to get back to that. It’s great. I say, everyone important I need to talk to today is already here.

      Want to meet up with someone? Set it up ahead of time (improves your planning skills), or take a stroll over to their house and knock on the door if they’re near.

      • Oh.. Good one. I haven’t given up the talking part yet, but I’m not a big phone talker anyway, so that hasn’t really become a problem. 

        But I love that you say the important ones you need to talk to are already there. 

  • As someone who blogs about time management from a Christian perspective, the concept of a sabbath is something that is very near and dear to my heart. It prepares us, refocuses us, renews us… but it’s also a great blessing in and of itself. Our life ultimately consists of more than work.

  • Amen amen amen!  Six days of labor with the blessings of God is going to be so much more productive than seven days on our own.  The Sabbath is a gift to renew us.

  • OK, you’re on. I love 28 day tests so for the next 4 weeks Sundays are technology free days. Friends, family, church and books… that’ll do… Will let you know how I go. 🙂 God bless Jeff.

    • Try it you’ll like it! I don’t really know anyone who’s gone back after establishing a habit of weekly rest.

  • MM

    Jerry Hicks (of Abraham-Hicks–Law of Attraction teachings) said that for one year, he decided he would not watch the news, read magazines and newspapers–basically focus on being productive and not hear or feed into the negativity of the world around him. He said he accomplished more and became more productive that year than in any other thereafter. Tuning out the outside world for a while allowed him to not only save himself from worldly worries, which drains your body, but the freedom from media and gadgets allowed him to channel energies in a more productive manner. How interesting is that!

    • I know a blogger who recently took a month off from email and also reported it hugely helped her productivity. 

      It’s hard to remember but it took weeks for many people to learn Lincoln had been shot.

      These days, we are overexposed to so many stressful pieces of news, of wars around the globe and murders around the corner. We need a day off from it all!

  • At times when I am resting I get an idea. A light bulb flashes on, a creative thought occurs.
    I am interested in what you do when this occurs. Do you push it away? Do you write a quick note for reference later? 
    thanks Carol

    • Sometimes I will jot a note to get it out of my head so I don’t fixate on it and start thinking about work. But mostly I try not to think about work! If I go on vacation though, I always need a notepad — usually have a bunch of ideas even as I’m driving away from the house. The change in perspective shakes all kinds of ideas loose, doesn’t it?

  • Ebony Sonnenberg

    The concept of rest for those whose livelihood depends on a creative output is definitely a strange one. It does work, however! I’ve got a post later this week going deeper into why REST is important, and it’s great to read a perspective of what the rewards of rest are! I’ve been reading for a while, but you really got me to be vocal with this one 😀

    • similar to the process of building muscle. after so much stretching and tearing, you need a day or so to rest — it actually helps the growth process.

  • Carol, I experienced this rest recently. I went to the mountains with my family to spend Christmas and New Year’s day together. Due to the heavy rains, we got no cellular signal at the house, so no Internet connection.
    I felt like I was being punished or something. After a few days, I settled down and gave up walking around the house to try to get a signal. So I relaxed and enjoyed the offline life.
    When I got back home, the very first day I sat down to write, I wrote three full posts and started working on two more posts in one single morning. I’ve never did that before, it was awesome.
    I will do my best to respect my body and give it the rest it needs weekly.
    Thank you for the advice!

  • Forgive me for not weighing in, but Tuesdays I refresh my creativity by taking a day off from commenting on other people’s blogs. 

  • This is something I definitely need to put into practice. I try to unplug each night when I get home, but once the kids are in bed I’m back online buzzing with activity (not necessarily productive though).

    To refresh my creativity I try to always be alert and observe the world around me, people, art and especially other writers.

  • It’s tough to take a rest. I can do it but I always think about still. I am a work in progress I guess!

    You make a good point Jeff!

  • I have days when my wife is at work and the kids are at school and everything is off but my laptop and I just write, I love it. Great post Carol.

  • How refreshing in a world that makes us feel like deadbeats if we aren’t always doing something ‘productive.’ 

    Your advice couldn’t be more timely as we bear down and tackle our New Year’s resolutions or what I prefer to call intentions. I do take days off now but feel guilty and try to make up for them. 

    Unplugging, being and avoiding the guilt is what’s needed. Thank you.

  • Fantastic post Carol! Thanks for bringing such an incredibly important concept to light…I just started doing this a few months ago and can absolutely see the difference when I do!

  • Kriztalladen

    I totally agree! Rest rest rest! (But still, don’t rest too much or else you’ll rust.) It’s just simply one day so why not give it time? Keep the Sabbath Day holy! 🙂 Thanks for this post. 🙂

  • Wow, this is great advice! It’s sad to say but I can’t remember the last time I’ve unplugged for a full day. I’m going to try this Sunday … thanks for the encouragement!

  • I don’t think I would manage an entire day offline, there’s just too much to do. But if I spread those 25 hours through two days, starting Friday afternoon and ending it Saturday evening, I might be able to make it.

    I’ll see how that works 🙂 Thanks for posting!

  • Anonymous

    I’ll TRY to do the stuff stated here. But it’ll be hard especially with work always pulling you back in.

  • Benedict

    brilliant article, thanks Carol! makes so much sense, I don’t know why I don’t take the break already!

  • Anonymous

    Last weekend I did a “social media fast” while reading the book “Unfriend Yourself.” What was supposed to be two days lasted three for me. I didn’t realize how tired I’d become and how often I used the internet to try to stimulate my already overloaded brain.

    Thank you for this post. I’m still thinking on all that I read in the book and trying to find a place of balance that works best for me. I’ll keep the idea of this Sabbath rest in mind. That much is for certain.

  • There is a lot to be said for being a writer who is Shomer Shabbos.

  • Great advice. Thanks! I need to reestablish this habit.

  • I completely agree with you Carol. I just love my days off, and the fact that I can award myself an extra one if I am feeling jaded. Then next day is so much better as a result. 

  • Hi Jeff! I came to know some interesting points by reading this post and the related comments. I am really appreciating you for choosing this concept. Even though, it is very difficult, I will try to follow your suggestion.

  • A good reminder on the importance of balance.  Push to hard and it will all break.  Thanks Jeff