Take a Break (Infuriating Advice, Part 2)

Last night, a plot point that had been nagging me for days dropped into my head while I was dicing onions. Last week, a perfect turn of phrase for an essay sauntered through my head while I was on the train. I am grateful for these breakthrough moments, and also started to wonder, why couldn’t I think of these while at my desk?

Why is it that I am least creative when I am working hardest?

In my last post, I my advice was: If you want to write, write (more).

Today, my advice is: take a break!

And yes. That advice is contradictory. Here is why.

There is an emerging interest in the science of creativity, and researchers recently tackled the question: why do people get their best ideas in the showers? The answer is straightforward.

You have better ideas when you are relaxed.

image of a busy brain

A busy brain can be a writer’s enemy

Decision-making, e-mail-writing, and schedule-juggling is controlled by the prefrontal cortex. The medial prefrontal cortex controls association and emotional response. Some studies suggest that when artists are improvising and most creative, there is almost no activity in the prefrontal cortex. The part of your brain that balances your checkbook does not write poetry. Not only does creativity need a quite prefrontal cortex, it also thrives on dopamine. What’s dopamine? The neurotransmitter that relaxes the body.

In other words, your writer’s block is not because you are not focused, but because you are not relaxed.

Image of a brain at rest

When your frontal cortex is resting, your subconscious is at work.

Thinking about a problem can keep you from creating a solution. Dopamine quiets the chatter, and lets your subconscious get to work. When I was dicing onions, I was relaxed, which let my subconscious knit together the ideas that been slowly forming.

So how do you access this magic drug? Take a break. Bake a cake. Take a bath. Walk around the block. Draw a picture of your brain.

It can be hard to follow this advice. After all, my writing time is precious to me, often squeezed between other jobs, or carved out at the end of the day. When I find myself staring at the screen, faced with a plot problem I can not untie, I remind myself that creativity does not have a time-clock.

I find that by writing more frequently and taking breaks when I get frustrated, I am able to make daily progress.

Do you ever feel like your best – or only – ideas happen when you’re away from your desk?


Naomi is a writer, performer, and project manager.  She has dueling degrees in business and playwriting. You can learn more about her work here.


Spell Against Self Doubt

This summer, I almost turned down a writing residency.

Before fully considering the offer, doubt crept in. A friend pointed out that I was more focused on my self-doubt than the opportunity in front of me. And so, I cast a spell against self-doubt.

The spell was quite simple; it was to complete four actions before starting work.

Those actions were:

  • An act of kindness
  • An act of strength
  • An act of creation
  • An act of bravery

My Spell Against Self-Doubt

In the weeks leading up to the residency, and during the residency itself, my spell against self-doubt became a daily practice. Each action was an antidote to my most frequent doubts.

The manifestation of my casual witchcraft was to:

  • Make coffee for my partner  (Act of Kindness)
  • Bust out 30-50 Pushups (Act of Strength)
  • Sketch a quick cartoon (Act of Creation)
  • Scribble three pages of automatic writing (Act of Bravery)

The culmination of this practical magic was that when I started work on my play I was energized, centered, and eager to tap into the fictional world I was creating. Whenever doubt started to murmur, I refuted it, with my proof of kindness, strength, creation, and bravery

Centering my writing practice on acts of kindness towards others (and myself) let me shed my fear that writing is a selfish pursuit. The adrenaline rush from my act of strength let me draw with energy and abandon. I started sketching because it was a form that had no repercussions on my sense of self as a creative.


Satisfaction: holding a grudge / letting it go

I gave up on “learning to draw” in seventh grade when I was unable to render a realistic bouquet of flowers. Last July, when I decided to start drawing, I was unencumbered from any pressure to be good. Unlike writing, it’s not something I’ve practiced.Surprisingly, I fell in love.

Armed with paints, I was full of stories. Freed from any understanding of technique, I was able to let go of my bias that realistic is good. Drawing in my own perspective, freed me to write in my own voice.

After the joy of splashing my thoughts into colorful cartoons, I was able to face myself on the page and write.

By the time the residency started, the spell had taken hold. Instead of bringing my toolbox of doubt, I brought my watercolors and a play I was excited to share.


Ready, Set, Draw!

Over the past six months, the spell has stuck. I continue to count acts of kindness, feats of strength, and drawing as an essential to my writing. What started as an act of desperation has become a source of inspiration.

Do you have your own version of the spell against self-doubt?

Have you ever tried drawing/dancing/singing as a way to warm-up before writing?


Naomi is a writer, performer, and project manager.  She has dueling degrees in business and playwriting.


Defeating the December Doldrums

December Doldrums

The doldrums refer to the five degrees of latitude on either side of the equator where the wind dies and sailing ships are becalmed.

Every year, I stall in the December Doldrums, when moving my pen across the page feels like trudging through wet, ankle deep cement. Instead of climbing out of my chair, I sit at my desk longer than I can be productive – behavior that can trigger a cascade of discontent.

The doldrums refer to the five degrees of latitude on either side of the equator where the wind dies and sailing ships are becalmed, sometimes for weeks. The term has been appropriated into the common language to describe a period of inactivity, listlessness, or stagnation.

I’ve been becalmed here before. As the calendar winds down and the northern hemisphere tilts away from the sun, my thoughts can turn as dark as the day is short.

In early December of this year, I submitted a novel to my agent. Now, I’m waiting. Submission is an act of yielding to another’s judgment, and it often elicits a sense of helplessness in me. I’ve done all I can, and now the fate of my work is in others’ hands.


Self doubt comes to roost.

I wait and I fret. Self doubt perches in my soul.

To wait in the dark of the year only intensifies my feelings of being unsettled, listless, itchy in my own skin.

But I’ve been around this bend before, and I’ve learned that the wind will pick up. In the meantime, there are activities I can do to make waiting for it more bearable. Here are five ways I navigate through the doldrums.

1. Declutter

One of my favorite ways to wait out the doldrums is to clear clutter and organize the nests of papers, piles of books, and tangles of string too short to be saved. The number of places in my house where I could apply this organizing energy attests to how infrequently I’m becalmed.

2. Get Outside

I also know that even better than cleaning is getting outdoors. This year, we’ve been blessed with early snow followed by bright, cold days. I’ve skied myself stiff, replacing psychic pain with physical aches.

3. Give Gifts; Volunteer

Last Sunday, I offered Writing to the Light, a free writing workshop. Fifteen people showed up, wrote and shared their stories. They enjoyed stepping out of the holiday circus for reflection, and they all expressed appreciation for my efforts, which made me feel good.

4. Check the Data

It’s easy to see only what’s lacking while in the doldrums. This is why I keep a daily account of my time.  All I have to do is look at my records for the year for a solid reality check of the work I’ve produced: weekly posts at Living In Place; bi-weekly posts for Live to Write – Write to Live; and publications for my paying markets, including broadcasts on Vermont Public Radio. I also taught grant funded literature and writing courses; gave a dozen public talks for the Vermont Humanities Council; and hosted the Rosefire Writing Circle throughout the year. This is all in addition to revising one novel; rereading another; and continuing research for a piece of non-fiction. I’ve increased my readership and my income. By all measures, 2017 has been a good year.

5. Have Faith

The sun will turn the corner, and the earth will begin its journey back to the sun. The wind will pick up and I’ll leave the doldrums. This too shall pass.

By engaging in a combination of these five activities, I’ve already caught the wind and started sailing toward the sun.

Wishing all of you light and love to carry you into the New Year.

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin blogs weekly about Living in Place.

Walking and Writing Toward Wisdom

Writing and Walking

Writing is an act of discovery. I’ve been keeping a journal since I was a girl. Photo courtesy of Leadership’N Motion

My colleagues here have written eloquently about the value of journaling. Lisa describes journaling as A Method for Creative Discoveries, and Jamie lists 10 Ways Journaling Makes You a Better Writer.

Like both of them, I’ve been journaling since I was quite young. As an only girl in a household of boys, writing was sometimes the only way I could make myself heard. It’s still sometimes the only way I can hear myself.


But now that I’m a professional writer, I sometimes need a break from my desk; that’s when I walk.

Walking is a lot like journaling. Instead of unspooling my thoughts in ink, I hike over the uneven terrain of my mental uncertainty. Before long, my footsteps shake my ideas into place, and I return to my desk with mental clarity.

writing and walkingSometimes, it’s emotional upset that blocks the words, and walking helps calm me. Being in nature changes my perspective with a long view. I’m reminded, “It’s not about me,” one of The Four Agreements that I find so helpful since reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s book about personal freedom and Toltec wisdom last February.

I read The Four Agreements in preparation for attending two-day “aWALKening to Personal Leadership Retreat” that deepened my understanding of how walking aids my writing and my life.

The Retreat was sponsored by Leadership’N Motion, co-founded by two dynamic coaches with international experience: Kate Lampel Link and Marjine van den Kieboom.


The retreat affirmed how walking literally and metaphorically helps me move forward.

One of the unintended consequences of that retreat was connecting with Kate – with whom I’ve crossed paths for years, usually on local cross-country ski trails.

Since February, we’ve been walking side-by-side in a deepening friendship. Our walks through the forest have led us to understand better the synergy of walking and writing, two activities that reinforce our personal leadership and help us to live mindful, fulfilling lives.

writing and walking

Kate Link Lampel and I are collaborating on Women Women Walking and Writing Toward Wisdom on 11/4/17. Photo courtesy of Leadership ‘N Motion

Kate’s a coach and I’m an educator. We both work primarily with women pursuing self-empowerment, whether pursuing a dream of entrepreneurship (Kate) or reframing the narrative of their lives (me). We hadn’t walked very far together before we started collaborating on a way to bring our knowledge and skills to others.

So it is with great excitement that we’ll be offering Women Walking and Writing toward Wisdom, and all-day WALKshop on November 4, 2017.

Please note: Space is limited and Registration is required.

walking & writing

At the end of the Long Trail, 9/8/2016.

When she’s not walking, Deborah Lee Luskin is writing and Living in Place.





A New Strategy for Writing in Summer

Writing in Summer

I used to think that playing outdoors in summer interfered with writing. Now I know better.

Summers used to interfere with my writing. There was so much to do – both farm work and fun – that I used to despair about advancing narrative projects and meeting deadlines.

But I do.
I changed my attitude about writing.

Instead of heading straight for my desk after morning coffee, I’ve developed a completely different strategy about these lovely long days, where I’m busy from dawn till well past dusk.

I’m writing all the time – just not at my desk.

I’m writing as I drive to the river where I scull on the flat water at sunrise, when the air is sweet and cool. I slide through the water, the rhythm of my oars lulling me into the effort. I see, hear and smell the wild world while I’m out, notice changes from one day to the next.

Close observation of the world – natural, urban, indoors or out – is a key skill for a writer, one I practice in my boat, in the garden, and on the porch.

Living In Place. Deborah Lee Luskin

A detour through the garden on my way to work can delay me for hours.

After breakfast, I detour through the garden on the way to my studio. Some days, that’s as far as I get. I allow myself to become distracted by weeds or feel obligated to harvest the berries that have ripened behind my back.

I used to resent the need to stop everything to pick and process and pickle when I thought I needed to be writing. But now I know that I am writing while I engage in these summer activities. I’m expanding both my experiences and my store of metaphors. Both on the water and in the garden, my mind is freewheeling, and when I do finally get to my desk, my fingers are itching to press the keyboard.

In summer, I’m efficient at my desk.

How do you negotiate the challenges of writing and play in summer?

Deborah Lee Luskin, photoDeborah Lee Luskin is a recreational sculler, amateur farmer, and professional writer. Read an Essay Every Wednesday at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Dear Writer, You need more magic in your life.

Hidden Magic (Instagram: @suddenlyjamie)

Do you ever plunk yourself down, pen in hand, and feel like there’s nothing left? Do you ever come to the keyboard and only to find that your inspiration has been thoroughly depleted? You don’t have to answer. I’m betting you’ve had similar experiences. Some people call it writer’s block. Other’s call it life fatigue. Whatever name you give it, there’s a can’t-miss solution to get you back on track: get more magic in your life.

You see, magic begets magic. When you make more room in your life for magic, you’ll find that it fuels your creativity like nothing else. Even better, finding magic is easy. You can do it in the spare moments of your day. All you need to do is keep your eyes open. It’s there, all around you.

I wrote the following column for my local paper, but I’m hoping it may also be suitable to share here among fellow writers. Artists and writers should take special care to seek out magic in their daily lives. I consider it part of my self-care routine, and I can tell when I’ve been neglecting it.

So, here’s to finding magic in unexpected places. Enjoy!



One of the best things about hanging out with little kids is getting the chance to see the world through their eyes. A child’s view of reality isn’t clouded by doubt or cynicism. It isn’t limited by things like logic or so-called “common sense.” When a kid looks at the world, it is with an open mind that is ready and willing to embrace things an adult would overlook simply because of our grown-up prejudice against the impossible.

But, as Alice’s White Queen would tell you, you can believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast if you simply draw a long breath, shut your eyes, and try.

The truth is, there is magic all around us, each and every day. To see it, we just need to take the queen’s advice. There’s a lot to be said for deep breaths and other things that help us pause for a moment and become fully aware of the wonders right in front of our noses.

It’s much too easy to surrender to the tugging and nagging of the Everyday World. As grown-ups, we’re supposed to be responsible and realistic. We’re supposed to know about things like taxes and flu prevention and the latest dreadful headlines (of which there seem to be so many these days). Our lives are busy-busy-busy and packed full to bursting with all kinds of Serious Matters and Important Tasks.

But we all need magic in our lives. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Thankfully, magic comes in an infinite number of flavors. In addition to the magic of a child’s imagination, there is the magic of sunrises and sunsets — brilliant and subtle sky paintings in every hue and shade, all lit from within and turning the world pink and blue and purple. There is the magic of spring’s first buds emerging into the bright air despite the cold and lingering pockets of ice and snow. There is the magic of last year’s seedpods, looking for all the world like perfect, faerie architecture with arches and catacombs.

One of my favorite kinds of magic is dog magic. I have yet to meet a canine who lacked the ability to work a spell on me. I see a dog, and I smile. I can’t help it. Dogs lighten my heart and remind me of all the goodness in the world. I can be walking down the street, dragging my cloud of worries behind me, and then I see a dog and those worries just evaporate into nothing. All it takes is one furry-faced smile.

And, of course, there is magic in stories and poems and music and all manner of art. During especially stressful times, I make sure to pepper my day with creative magic. My morning usually includes the enchantment of classical music, each movement and piece offering up a wordless story that is clearly magical. Throughout the day, I take a moment here and a moment there to visit the Facebook posts of certain friends who have a knack for curating the most whimsical and inspiring collections of art. Each visit lasts only a minute, but the effects linger for much longer.

I have reached an age at which I believe I have earned the right to be taken seriously when I say, “Life is short.” The more years I live, the more quickly each year seems to fly by until one blends into the last, blurring experiences and memories into one another. But the moments of magic that I weave into my life always stand out. Whether they are solitary moments standing in awe of Nature’s creative brilliance or shared moments experiencing a work of art, an adventure, or an unexpected encounter with a magical person or creature in the wild, those small moments are the ones that sparkle in my memory like stars in the night sky — constellations that guide me to remember what matters most in this short life.




Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.

Keeping the Creative Fires Burning

“The world is violent and mercurial—it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love—love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”

Tennessee Williams

A friend posted this quote on Facebook this morning. It was a gem in my newsfeed, glittering darkly amidst a colorful cacophony of political posts, vacation pictures, and LOL cats. I held each word for a moment – violent, mercurial, love, burning – and then, as the bigger concept coalesced in my mind, I was surprised to realize that the idea of living in Williams’ burning building was actually comforting.

Making time in our lives for any creative endeavor is a challenge, but the effort seems particularly Herculean today. Not only is the house burning, but the entire world is ablaze – global warming, political unrest, racial tensions, Brexit, wars, not to mention the dumpster fire of American politics. And yet, even in these precarious times, we feel compelled to write. The fire in our hearts yearns to escape the secret confines of our minds and leap into the conflagration of the real world where it might ignite passion (or at least curiosity) in someone else.

The interesting thing about fire is that while it can be an instrument of destruction, it also provides inspiration, warmth, and fuel. Fire can consume, but it also helps us to build and create. Staring into a fire, it’s impossible not to be drawn into thoughts of the balance between light and dark, the truth of ashes to ashes and dust to dust, and the dream of the phoenix. It is impossible not to think about the metaphorical fires that burn inside us.

And yet, even when the fire burns down and the ashes turn cold, there is always a spark or a coal buried deep, just waiting for the right conditions to spring back to life as a dancing flame that lights up the darkness, bringing hope and warmth and the power to pierce the night. Our creative fires never truly go out. They may burn low for a while, or even disappear underground; but then something to turn the earth over, exposing the smoldering coals to the air, and we’re ablaze again.


Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings.  Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
Photo Credit: Christian Ferrari Flickr via Compfight cc