Give It a Rest

Tiffany Yates Martin FoxPrint Editorial rest

Give It a Rest

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<– This is Gavin.

These are Gavin’s chew toys. –>

Gavin is a little bit obsessive about his chew toys.

From the day we brought him home, his “chewies,” as we call them, have been a spectacular hit. As you can see, this is a very well-fanged dog, so we went through a lot of chew toys before lighting on a brand (West Paw, if you have a similarly endowed chewer) that could hold up to that mouthful of teeth. 

They have to be sturdy, because Gavin has a profound passion for his chew toys. Chewing is his gift and his calling. His chewies and he share the love that dare not speak its name.

He can chew for literally hours–to the point where my husband cannot bear the squeaky rubber noise. To the point where guests comment upon it, with a tepid smile that wants to suggest it’s adorable, but which is shaded with pity for our poor obsessive furry son, and sometimes not a little bit of superiority about their own no doubt well-adjusted pets.

He likes to nap with the chewy. He likes to lick the chewy. After a game of fetch he likes to carry the chewy home. If he cannot get to a chewy, for instance in his kennel, he will ruck up his rug and shove it in his mouth–his other obsession–and just sit there like it’s his binky.

There is much to admire in my dog’s single-minded devotion and focus on his chewies. But sometimes he gets so worked up it seems as if it’s taking over his life, and he seems constitutionally unable to give it a rest and focus on other things until we take the chewy away.

Do Gavin and his chewy remind you of you and your writing, by chance?

Creativity is such an intrinsic part of who creatives are, it can feel as if it’s our whole identity. Common writing advice leans into that: “real writers write every day, no matter what”; your stories are your “book babies” for which you must endure months and sometimes years of labor; writing is easy—just open a vein and bleed.

It’s become a common joke that writers are constantly thinking about their stories: in the shower, on a walk, at work, most soberingly while with family and friends. It’s a comic cliché that we lie sleepless for hours with our heads spinning with ideas, the notebook necessary ever ready beside the bed to write them down before they flee in the night.

It’s become a common joke that writers are constantly thinking about their stories: in the shower, on a walk, at work, most soberingly while with family and friends. It’s a comic cliché that we lie sleepless for hours with our heads spinning with ideas, the necessary notebook ever ready beside the bed to write them down before they flee in the night.

Friends, I do these things. I can’t count how many of these blogs I’ve written on my dog walk or in the middle of the night; how often I am distracted by working through some new concept I want to teach or an author’s manuscript I’m working on. How many nights and weekends and holidays I’ve given up to work.

This kind of passion and dedication aren’t bad in and of themselves—but just like Gavin’s chewy, we need to know when to put it down and focus on other parts of life.

Especially right now, when you may be busy with holiday prep or visiting family or simply allowing yourself to enjoy this season of the year–or just trying to get through it, as it’s not always a happy season for everyone–I just want to offer you permission to give it a rest.

Lately I’ve taken all the pressures off myself for the rest of the year. Yes, I have responsibilities I must still meet, and I am, but I’m giving myself the freedom to not push myself harder than I have to right now. I’m not worrying about the book I’m working on…or upcoming presentations or speaking engagements…or anything at all beyond just meeting my current deadlines, and enjoying some time with my husband, my family, the dogs, friends. I’m visiting family and meeting friends and entertaining and making toffee and watching movies and reading just for pleasure, not for work.

It’s rather glorious.

The most affecting book I read this past year was called Rest, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, and I urge you to treat yourself to it as your gift to yourself.

Pang presents the (to me) revelatory concept that rest is not the opposite of work—it’s an intrinsic part of it, the other side of the coin, like breathing out and breathing in are both part of respiration.

Lest you dedicated creatives take that as permission to use your rest time to consciously percolate ideas, that’s not what he means. Yes, that kind of passive creativity is crucial. But it too should be stepped away from sometimes.

We are more than our productivity or even our passions. Life is more than that.

When Gavin steps away from his chewies for a while, or has them taken away, he has the chance to work on obedience exercises, which we both adore. He’s able to have love sessions with me and my hubs on the floor. We go on long walks where he can sniff every single spot where every dog in a five-mile radius has ever peed. He gives his jaw a rest and avoids TMJ.

But much more important, he has time to unwind and relax. To unspool himself from the tightly wound ball he can become and learn to self-soothe. To rest. To stretch out in a pool of sunlight and simply enjoy the warmth seeping into his black fur.

This time of year, which so often feels like a hectic crush we simply have to get through, I hope you will give yourself permission to not worry about work too much, nor your writing and how well it may or may not be going at the moment, and just let go—no pressure, no guilt, no obsessive chewing.

Happy holidays, my friends. I’m grateful you’re here.

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19 Comments. Leave new

  • Rest is an excellent book. Eye-opening.

  • This blog came on the perfect day for me: the day after I finished Christmas shopping, after I baked 6 loaves of pumpkin bread for coworkers, after a relative’s positive Covid test cancelled the next five days of my holiday plans. I had taken the month off from writing but tracked changes in a friend’s 181-page manuscript. Your article gave me permission to truly rest now, to breathe deeply, to cry out my disappointment over cancelled plans. Thank you, Tiffany.

    • Oh, Lee, I’m so sorry about your holiday plans! I have heard this happening to so many people–that or the travel upsets from the weather rolling in. I hope you have a happy holiday nonetheless, and yes, enjoy some rest and downtime…and I have faith you may find some nearby loved ones happy to help with those delicious-sounding pumpkin loaves. 🙂

  • Thank you Tiffany, for another wonderful, thoughtful article leaving us all with something to “chew on.”

  • Hey! All the best of the Holiday Season to you and yours!

    I don’t believe that writers have to write every day. But I end up doing it. Most of the time.

    As a writer, I’m strung out between wanting to share things with people and my fear of not having anything worth sharing.

    When I’m not working on a book or a story or some issue on which I need to express myself, I fear the unthinkable has finally happened: O.M.G. I’ve run dry.

    I finally realized I do run dry, but only temporarily. And when I do, I might as well focus on something else, or even better, on nothing at all Because I’m not going to be able to write again until my muse awakes: Do Not Disturb!

    Waiting for my muse to awake is like waiting for Christmas when I was seven! Anticipation of something wonderful, but so strong it’s almost painful.

    It will have to do, but I don’t think rest is supposed to feel like that. I sleep better when I’m not resting.

    Happy New Year!

    • Boy, I’m betting this resonates with more than one author: “As a writer, I’m strung out between wanting to share things with people and my fear of not having anything worth sharing.” Isn’t that the central struggle in a nutshell?

      I love that you talk about the well never running dry, even when we think it will. I have found that to be true a lot too–it goes in waves or cycles, but the tank always refills. And in the dry spells, does sound like the perfect time for rest (though I’m trying to actually schedule it in more frequently and deliberately).

      Happy holiday and New Year to you as well, Bob–glad to have you here.

  • Cynthia Badiey
    December 22, 2022 6:51 pm

    Oh, Tiffany, this post came at the perfect time for me. I am feeling completely depleted, yet guilty and self-flagellating because I’m raising procrastination to an art form instead of writing this week. On Monday I had a pass from an agent I thought was a slam-dunk (she had great things to say about my writing and the story, she just didn’t know how she’d categorize the book to sell to an editor) and it really threw me for a loop even though I know it shouldn’t.

    That, the unexpected death of a cousin, and other family issues–even some that are positive–seem to have paralyzed me. I don’t know what to work on out of a host of possibilities. Should I start a new draft? Pull out another project and try to revise? Update my website? Who knows?

    Thanks for this post (for all your posts) and for the book recommendation. It reminds me that I need to go back to a book called Wintering by Katherine May that I started a while back.

    • I’m so sorry, Cynthia–about your cousin…and also about the agent rejection. Both are blows. I hope your family is able to find some comfort in the face of a loss like that.

      I hope you’ll love Rest–I keep going back to it and rereading parts. It’s helpful to me for the same reasons you describe–I tend to be quick to flog myself if I’m not always working or producing or accomplishing something. I’ll add Wintering to my TBR pile as well.

      Meanwhile I do hope you take some downtime to relax and restore the batteries, and just enjoy–and also to let yourself have space to mourn. And despite all that, I hope you have a happy–or at least peaceful–holiday. Thanks for being here, and for your kind comments. They mean a lot.

  • Suzanne Trauth
    December 22, 2022 7:51 pm

    Thanks for this post… such a good reminder that it’s ok to let go for awhile… and enjoy the holidays with family. Happy holidays!

  • Christine Adler
    December 22, 2022 7:52 pm

    I love all your posts, and this one especially. Thank you for all you wise words—they always seem to come when I need them most!

    • That genuinely makes me happy to hear. 🙂 I usually write what I need to hear or am wrestling with, and it’s always validating to me to hear that others are feeling some of the same things.

      Happy holidays, friend. I hope 2023 brings us more chances to get together in person!

  • Mary-Chris Escobar
    December 28, 2022 2:32 pm

    Hope your holidays are going well (and are restful)! Thanks for this timely reminder. I wrote a piece last week about the year I set a goal to finish my nowhere-close-to-done novel over my two week winter break and then proceeded to beat myself up when I failed at said impossible goal.
    It’s a super hard trap not to fall into– the I finally have time off, must create pull is strong. I get a little better at understanding rest as an important part of the creative process each year, but I think it’s something I will always need reminders about.

    • I know, why do we do that? I do it too–over and over. I’m really working on giving myself a break and lowering expectations. If I’m not doing this because I enjoy it, rather than using it as a flog for myself, what’s it for?

      I’d love to see your article, Mary-Chris, if you can share. Thanks–and happy holidays!

      • Mary-Chris Escobar
        December 29, 2022 11:43 am

        So true: “If I’m not doing this because I enjoy it, rather than using it as a flog for myself, what’s it for?” This is a really good check-in, I think!

        And thanks for asking about the article– here it is:

        • That’s a wonderful essay, Mary-Chris. And yes, resonates for me a lot too. I especially love this analogy: “It’s hard to see something objectively or holistically without backing up from it, like how a mosaic just looks like tiny shards of things up close and the patterns appear when you back up. It’s important to take time away from it all.” Hard to give ourselves “permission” for that. That’s one reason Rest was so impactful to me–not for permission, but for showing me why rest is not a luxury, but a necessary part of life…and creativity.

          Thanks for sharing this. I hope other readers here will read your post. There’s a lot to get out of it.

          • Mary Chris Escobar
            December 30, 2022 11:13 am

            Thank you so much! I’m so glad it resonated!

            Also, I’ve definitely added Rest to my list of books for 2023. It sounds like such a good (important!) messsge.

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