Receptivity, not Productivity

Having just returned from a glorious 5-day writing retreat by the sea, I’m reminded painfully of the rush and bustle that dominates most of our lives. So many of my well-meaning writer friends asked, upon my return, if my retreat was ‘productive….’

Because productivity is good, right? It’s what we strive for, right? If you ask almost anyone how they’re doing these days, they’ll tell you “I’m sooo busy,” or “I have too much to do!” It’s a badge of honor in our culture, to be so incredibly busy and pressed for time that you can’t sit for a minute, take a long stroll, stare out the window, or god forbid, daydream…

But staring out the window and daydreaming are essential components of the creative life. John Cleese has famously stated that busyness is the enemy of creativity. And Brenda Ueland, in her wonderful book If You Want to Write, talks about how the imagination needs “moodling,” which she describes as “inefficient happy idling time, dawdling and puttering…”

Time to stare out the window, daydream and take meandering walks.

I took a lot of meandering walks on my writing retreat, and I remembered how crucial it is to stare, and daydream. During this precious ‘doing nothing’ time, my mind became receptive to new ideas. Several times, during a walk, or while staring at the sea, I’d suddenly get the answer to a writing mystery—I’d see the threads connecting characters and events. I’d know instinctively how to move forward. This kind of insight rarely comes when I’m racing the clock or struggling to get things done.

So my new mantra, post-retreat, is to value receptivity as much as productivity. I want to remember how to ‘moodle,’ to make space in my life for creativity to come, even if that means sacrificing a few items on my to-do list.

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