The Italians have a phrase that I’ve always loved: La Dolce Far Niente — the sweetness of doing nothing. It refers to the pastime of languishing happily, letting the world pass by while you relax, savor, and soak it in. It sounds so decadent. And most of us crave it, but don’t always let ourselves enjoy it. I’m just as guilty as the next person. As a productivity consultant by training, I pride myself on getting a lot done. I track my project and task management in my Asana app, conquer my email, and honor my appointments. I set writing sessions on my calendar and try to stick to them. But I recognize that if I don’t take time out to “do nothing,” I may miss the magic that comes with it.
For many of us, there is a constant push-pull of wanting to do more while knowing that we also need to take time for self-care and to unplug. E.B. White captured that dichotomy when he said, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
As humans, we all need time off to recharge, refresh, and rejuvenate. As creative beings, we often need to take time to fill the “creative well.” You can achieve that by moving your body, gardening, experiencing solitude, viewing art, listening to music, reading great books, writing in a journal, or spending time in nature. And you should be able to do that without guilt. Easier said than done for some people, right?
Many of you are probably juggling work, family commitments, creative pursuits, and what I call life administration (adulting takes a lot of energy!). You want to get to your writing (or whatever creative passion project you’re pursuing), but often you need a break. My advice is to take it and not feel guilty about it.
For the past two years, we’ve been struggling globally with a pandemic. Some people experienced a surge of productivity in the beginning, getting a ton of projects done and finding renewed energy. Then as the pandemic dragged on and the months passed, that changed for many to a feeling of malaise and languishing. It was at that point that many people needed a break to fill the creative well. Perhaps you’re one of them. If so, I hope you allowed yourself that small luxury in the midst of very trying times. I did marathon writing sessions for months on end, making serious progress on my manuscript. Then I hit a wall and knew I needed to take a page out of my Italian paisanos’ advice and take a break. And it was just what I needed! I filled that creative well and came back with a renewed sense of purpose for finishing my manuscript. Now I’m back for a final round of revisions and my sessions are productive and enjoyable again.
There’s a difference between taking a much-needed break to fill the creative well, and procrastination or avoidance. Recognize the difference. If you genuinely need a break, try to honor that. Pick a date to get back to your writing and then give yourself the freedom of the sweetness of doing nothing — whatever that looks like for you.