On the value of staring into space

The most important thing you can do as a writer is, of course, to write.

But that’s not the only important thing. There is a lot to be said for the act of shutting down the laptop, closing the notebook, and just staring off into the middle distance.

It’s not intuitive to me that I need time, sometimes, just to think. Unless my fingers are moving, I don’t feel like I’m doing something. I need to be typing to feel like I’m making forward progress; but if there’s a problem that hasn’t really been solved, hacking away at it via keyboard doesn’t get me anywhere. Not anywhere worth visiting, at least.

I have less working time every day; my kids turned 2 last November and they’re napping less and waking up earlier each morning. They’re getting better at entertaining themselves as they get older, sure, but they’re also two and they’re busy and noisy and the amount of work I can get done while Daniel Tiger is on or while blocks are being stacked and gleefully knocked down is just not as much as I can get done while those little nuggets are sacked out for a three-hour nap. That’s just math.

And the first casualty was, not surprisingly, my staring-off-into-space time. I can hack out a chapter while having Mega-Blocks piled on my head, but it’s a lot harder to focus in on a problem that needs solving, to sit quietly and move the pieces of a story around in my head. To ruminate until a story germinates.

But today I did something I don’t usually do: on my visit to the gym, I skipped my usual intense exercise class (too sore from yesterday’s class! Two weeks of Christmas break and a bonus Christmas cold did a number on me) and hit the elliptical for half an hour instead.

And something happened with thirty minutes of zoning out stretching in front of me with nothing but a so-familiar-as-to-not-be-there backdrop of 80’s rock to accompany it. The something that happened was: my mind had time and peace to wander in. WIPs popped into my head. I solved problems. I had Ideas.

It’s sad to sacrifice my workout class, at least a few times a week, but to have a few minutes a week where my brain can happily graze in fictional pastures? Worth it. There are things I can’t accomplish with any amount of time at a keyboard, and my kids aren’t getting any quieter as they get bigger.

And hey — a little extra cardio probably won’t kill me, either …

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