Something about these long, warm June days makes me want to slow down, slow everything down. My motivation melts like an ice cream cone in a child’s hand on a bench, in a park, in the ripples of sun that cast themselves down on us through the screen of shimmering, green leaves.
I come to my computer: to write, to work, to pay bills–activities that I allow my mind to label “chores,” activities that I approach with more anxiety the longer I procrastinate on them.
You see, as the days lengthen, with light stretching itself long into evening, far past 9:00, I feel that time itself is lengthening, stretching its legs, slowing, pausing.
I am swimming in memories of the summers of my youth, when it seemed the days lasted forever, and the beginning of the next school year felt a lifetime away. I spent those long, hot days among stacks of library books, hungry for words, turning pages quickly, eager for the other-world escape a child finds so easily between the pages of a book.
Today, I awoke and wanted nothing more than to lie in bed for several hours, floating between the time of dreams and the time of focused work, my nose buried in a book.
I want to read summer books–fiction, stories unfolding before me as I turn pages just for the joy of it. I want to read slowly and savor the words; to read poems out loud to myself, several times, until they ring true in my ears.
I’m a firm believer in naps, in going easy on the self, in embracing slowness and simplicity.
Yet, as writers, as artists, we know there is a bit of danger in slowing down. The danger is that we might slow all the way to a stop, and end up not writing anything for several days, maybe even a week.
The longer I go without picking up a pen, the more resistance I create in my mind. If I don’t write for two days, an irrational phobia rises in me, a fear I can’t explain. The pen seems heavier and heavier, and I become sure that once I pick it up, I will have nothing to say.
So how do we allow ourselves the lush pleasure of long, lazy summer days and continue to create?
Here are a few of my tricks:
1. Do a little bit, a lot. This means, write often, but in short bursts. Set a ten or twenty minute timer and write for that short amount of time, a few times a day. It adds up to 30-60 minutes of writing in a day–not bad for a writer on “summer vacation,” yes?
2. Handle one thing at a time. One blog post, one article, one page, one poem. Do just that one thing. Promise yourself that for right now, you will work on just this one thing, and when you’re done, you can stop and return to your lazy, slowed-down, dreamy summer reverie activities (whatever those may be).
3. Make the slowed-down times totally enjoyable. Be like a kid about it. Take your books, or your iPod and headphones, or your fingerpaints, to a special place. Build a fort from blankets and bed sheets. (I can’t count the number of forts I built and tore down as a child; I only know that each one transformed the world into a place that I could craft and mold with my own hands–a place of magic and possibility.) Or take your restful time outside, in a park somewhere, listening to the birds sing; beside a pool; on a beach.
4. Give yourself leeway. Yes, writing is work and art is work. And if you’re making your living by creating, then you do need to return to the page, the pen, the screen, or wherever it is that your real work is done. But can you ease up on yourself? Can you say, maybe, that for one week, your blog is offline, and set up an email auto-responder? Can you stretch any of your self-imposed due dates (within reason)? Are there activities you could cut out for a day or a week, and still keep your artistic juices flowing?
It is OK to do less.
Find the balance between effort and surrender. Do the work you’ve promised yourself that you will do, but approach it like play rather than work. Make things easy. Make a game out of a chore. Take breaks. Reward yourself often.
You can slow down, and you do not have to stop.