It was late; everyone was dragging, and it was too warm under the stage lights. The union steward had called the orchestra out on a much-needed break fifteen minutes earlier. Offstage, orchestra members clumped in small groups to grumble or quip about the situation. Onstage, a few individuals silently worked difficult fingerings and wrote notes on sheet music, trying to work out why the sound wasn’t coming together in rehearsal the way it had in their solo practice. They were all strong performers, creative individuals, professional musicians, but right now, they didn’t sound like it.
When everyone returned to their seats, the ensemble started into the same section they had been trying earlier. It wasn’t a particularly difficult movement, but even these seasoned performers tended to rush through. Time after time, the conductor stopped everyone, asking them to mark their music, to wait for his cue. Time after time, the orchestra began, only to fall apart at the same measure. The group was out of sync, and frustrations were high. Finally, the conductor put down his baton. All instruments came to rest on laps.
“We’re not losing the tempo or speeding up,” he declared. “We’re shorting the rests. We’re not giving them their full time because we’re in a hurry to get to the next note. The notes get their moment. Give full time to the rest. When we forget to rest, we never have enough time.”
As if to emphasize his point, the conductor paused a moment, letting the words sink in before he raised his baton. This time, there was a different energy when the orchestra began. The air was not tense. There was less frustration. Everyone knew that all they needed to do was give proper time to rest. They did, and the piece came together.
What an astonishing idea, to give ourselves time to rest. As creative people, we often are focused on productivity: finishing an edit before the deadline, polishing a work in time for performance, completing enough pieces to be juried into a show. What we often forget is tranquility, the quiet needed for the creative process.
In her book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less,, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, suggests that everyone needs active rest. Pang argues that our best work is done four to six hours a day, all at once or in individual segments. That time should be spent focused on work, and the remainder of our time requires rest. This suggestion is echoed by a Scientific American article that delved into Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime. The article highlights Mary Helen Immordino-Yang’s 2012 research paper showing rest is essential for the mental processes that understand identity, human behavior, and ethics. Like stories, identity and ethics are composed of sensory experiences, hypothetical questions, and moral judgments. It’s not surprising that related research suggests that especially creative people use these sections of the brain more often than the typical person.
It’s easy to fall into step with a never-ending to-do list, to keep life so busy that we don’t have the proper time to process information and make something new. We can start to feel guilty about resting or playing. Before we know it, creativity is harder to access. It becomes something we obsess about, a draining task instead of a renewing force. As research shows, we need to remember that we are at our most creative when we set aside time to sleep, play, and enjoy the process.
Similarly, when we are in a hurry to see the reward of our creative efforts, it’s easy to forget the value of letting our work, whatever it is, settle. Actors can come back to a scene the day after rehearsal to find the notes now make more sense. Artists and writers that allow a ‘cooling off period’ return to their work with fresh eyes, ready to make corrections and improvements. Audio and video engineers that leave an individual track come back to it with music or effects that enhance a scene, creating a deeper emotional connection with the audience. During the creative process, taking a step back from your work often culminates in taking a leap forward in the quality of your project.
The mind and body need time away from a project to process information and see the work objectively. As a creative, give yourself and your project a little downtime. Sleep. Meditate. Read. Travel. Bake. Take your rest in whatever way works best for you. Don’t be in a hurry to get to the next scene, book, or note. Create time for rest and it will create time for you.
Harley Easton is a Renaissance woman dabbling in everything life offers. She's worked at a theme park, found expert witnesses, been a guest lecturer at a national museum, and worked with medical students. Putting experience and insanity to good use, she's become an author specializing in erotic, romantic, and speculative fiction.