Rest and Downtime – Two Creative Tools

photo of large leopard napping on a tree branch, with its legs drooping

This is one way to rest.
Image by butti_s from Pixabay

Support your creativity with rest and downtime, which can be underestimated as creative tools. Instead of entertaining the widespread belief that we ought to be go-go-going until we drop, consider these alternatives.

Taking the time to be quiet, whether at rest (unconscious or dozing) or during downtime (conscious and unfocused), gives our entire being a break. Afterward, resuming activity feels like the beginning of a new experience. We can learn to enjoy the rhythm of alternating between quiet times and active times.

Contrast that to not taking a break, pushing through, the way the Instagram influencers and lifestyle bros tell us we should. Fact is that keeping going when we’re in need of a break creates sympathetic fight/flight activity in the brain – our hardwired anxiety response to perceived threat – which shunts expansive thinking offline and depletes our energy reserves.

Wouldn’t you rather have access to your creative brain than get locked into anxiety and fear? Taking breaks can replenish your system and give your nervous system a healthful reset. Here’s a closer look at what my clients and I have learned about the benefits of rest and downtime.


I require a lot of rest. It took many decades to accept that truth. I tried habitually to deny my need for it, taking on work assignments and other obligations that made high demands and offered low flexibility or compassion. Vacation time was for collapsing, often with a cold or flu to keep me company.

I’ve gotten better at factoring in the need for rest and unscheduled time in my everyday routines. When I do, my creativity responds favorably. This is the best reward possible for encouraging me to continue honoring the need for rest.

The need can show up at unexpected moments. Sometimes when a small voice pipes up, suggesting I stop working and do nothing or – gasp – lie down, I talk back. “It’s not time now.” “I’ve only been up for three hours!” “Maybe later.” During a recent week off, I surprised myself by sleeping in one morning, and then, the following day, going back to bed for a midmorning nap. Shocking lassitude! Next thing I knew, though, I was up and at the laptop filling pages effortlessly, with good ideas and okay language (for a first draft).

I’m finally learning to believe the signals, and to trust that taking a rest break now will actually replenish the energy I need so I’ll be able to function better, in a little while. I’m not alone. Many of the creative people I work with are coming to trust their need for rest.

How’s your relationship to rest? Do you put it off for too long, paying for it later in exhaustion? Or do you honor your need to take a real break? When you do, do you bounce back, refreshed, afterward?


Downtime – when you’re awake but not focused in a driven way – is also valuable to your creativity. When I look back, I notice with gratitude that I almost always made room for downtime, even when I thought I couldn’t afford the time. During the years when I was too driven to stop for rest, a stubborn guide somewhere within still insisted on downtime.

For example, in my thirties I was working a demanding job while carrying a full load of grad school courses. Life was jam-packed, and yet, whenever there was half an inch of space in my overscheduled life, I’d notice that I’d been zoning out with my journal, or that I’d been daydreaming, or staring out the window. I’m grateful to that inner guide for insisting that I eke downtime out of challenging circumstances. That’s what kept me going those three years when the high-pressure schedule had almost convinced me it would never, ever, slow down.

My clients often learn to build downtime into the average day. What about you? If you don’t have a built-in downtime guide already – I picture a robed character with a charming, lazy smile – might it be worthwhile to invite one into your life?

Are You Meeting Your Needs?

Do you listen closely to your own needs for rest and downtime? Each of us is different, but we all benefit from paying attention to our own needs. It can be tempting to think that these are options you’ll only be able to get to later, when schedule and other realities permit. That may be true. But consider the possibility that you have some opportunities right now to add more rest and downtime to your life, perhaps in small increments. Your creative spirit will thank you. Quite possibly, your overall health will benefit as well.

Post-Nano Report

I promised in December to update you on my #NaNoWriMo2022. It was great! Planning ahead in September and October made a huge difference to my experience in November. I reported halfway through the month that things were going well, and I’m happy to say that the trend continued. I kept up with the weekly word-count targets until Thanksgiving weekend, when I fell behind. But my pre-Nano preparations came to the rescue! One of my advance tactics was to stash pages full of scenes, dialogue exchanges, and problems into a folder in my Scrivener project for the novel. A quick look in that folder turned up lots of useful raw material that I drew on and folded into the manuscript. Those pages got me caught up to the target wordcount. By the end of the month, I had exceeded it substantially, adding more than 63K words to the manuscript that had been 25K words on 1 November.

Does that mean the book is finished? Not at all. I gained insights into the overall structure, thanks to Nano, and am revising the whole thing, starting from the first chapter.

My big takeaway: commit in September to planning your Nano November. Define your project, and do the painstaking advance work so that your research, ideas, and any previous drafts you may need are at hand before November begins.

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For more creativity tools, visit the Library on the Anne Carley Creative website.

With my best wishes for a meaningful and creative 2023

~ Anne