For writers who don’t write quickly, it can be hard to justify taking a break. Instead, we often push ourselves to write more, while mentally beating ourselves up for not being as prolific as we’d like. However, the research is clear: taking a break from what we’re working on can actually improve productivity. A new and growing body of research outlined in the New York Times shows that strategic renewal – daytime workouts, coffee breaks, time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations – boosts productivity, job performance and health.
Many writers rely on the routine of a daily walk. Stephen King gets in about four miles a day; Charles Dickens logged about three hours every afternoon. Walking leads to more creative thinking than sitting does. Researchers from Stanford University found it boosted creative output by 60 percent. That’s significant. We walk Team Sheltie once or twice a day and I look forward to the break. It often sparks story ideas or helps with my work in progress.
But a walk is just a walk. And unless you cycle or drive to a new destination every day, the same old walking routine can become stale fast.
That’s where the artist’s date comes in. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. The brainchild of Julia Cameron, the artist’s date is a weekly solo expedition to explore something that interests you. It need not be overly ‘artistic.’ Cameron says it’s more ‘mischief than mastery.’ It’s meant to fire up the imagination and spark whimsy.
To be worthwhile, an artist date must happen every week and it must be taken alone. No friends, spouses, children allowed. It should involve leaving the house. What about being housebound because of bad weather, you ask. Cameron believes that an occasional in-house date if you’re alone and devoting yourself to something that ‘fills the well’ is acceptable but the goal is an excursion out of the house. Essentially, it’s a two-hour play date where you indulge your inner child.
It doesn’t have to cost anything, other than time. Some ideas:
Visit a shop that has nothing to do with what you actually do – an art supply store, a music store, a fabric, bead or (my favorite) a yarn shop.
Visit a U-pick farm.
Go to a graveyard and read the tombstones (it sounds morbid but this is great for writers who want story ideas).
Explore a neighboring town, or a part of your town you aren’t familiar with.
Take a hike.
Walk around town and take pictures of what inspires you.
Watch the birds.
Go to Home Depot with $5 in your pocket. See what cool things you can find to create an art project with five bucks. Go crazy.
Visit a plant nursery and plan your perfect garden.
Go to the library and find a book on a subject you know nothing about. Check it out.
Spend some time at a furniture auction.
Go for a bike ride.
Listen to live music.
Take yourself out for afternoon tea and people watch.
Visit a rock hound shop.
See a movie that appeals to you.
Go to a museum.
Watch a sunset.
Visit a farmer’s market.
And my personal favorite: walk on the beach and watch the waves crashing on shore.