The Importance of Not Writing

Why time away from writing is great for writing

I haven’t posted like usual the last couple of weeks because I made the very sudden decision to sell my house. My realtor came over on the 4th, told me what needed doing and said “Let’s put in on the market the 14th.” I stood on the porch in shock as she drove away, went inside, started packing, cleared everything out of the living room, hired the neighbor kids to weed whack and mow, enlisted my dad and a friend to help paint the walls Agreeable Gray, organized my clothes closet by color, got it all staged and photographed, and ten days later it went on the market.

After years of being in early parenting mode, where getting anything done felt like pushing a badly geared rusty tricycle uphill, I’ve felt like a road biker riding on the big front sprocket, each push eating up huge stretches of road. It’s felt great.

But have I been writing? No. Did you think I’ve been writing?


I’d like to take this as an opportunity to talk about the importance of not-writing. Of fallow times. Of immersion into other parts of life. Of simply taking a break.

This is important for adults in any creative pursuit, but I think it’s also an important part of the learning process for children. This is why I’m a big believer in summer break, despite the time spent refreshing academics in the fall.

I think breaks actually allow kids to make learning leaps. Growing up, I was a serious classical flute student. I practiced my flute most days from early elementary school through high school. Each day, I got incrementally better at whatever piece was challenging me. But I noticed that often if I worked on a piece for a while, then didn’t play for a few days, I’d come back to it no longer stumbling on the parts I’d always stumbled on. It was as if my mind kept learning while my fingers forgot their ingrained mistakes.

I’ve seen this happen with my writing students too.

Mental compost

And with writing, there’s another reason fallow time matters — writing comes out of life. Kids’ experiences away from their notebooks feed their writing. Their writing helps them integrate their experiences. I think of the Gary Snyder poem:

All this new stuff goes on top

turn it over, turn it over

wait and water down

from the dark bottom

turn it inside out

let it spread through

Sift down even.

Watch it sprout.

A mind like compost.
~ Gary Snyder

Every minute of life, kids are growing and learning and like any other living being, they need to both stretch and rest. As parents and teachers, letting kids have mental and creative fallow time can feel unnerving. It’s easy to feel guilty about allowing it. Linear progressions of skill-building and growth are so reassuring! But that’s not always how humans learn. Efficiency and ceaseless productivity are the values of capitalism, not living creatures.

So I say trust your kids, trust what feels good. Take breaks. Let their interests evolve. Put things down for awhile. It’s good if your kids write often, but don’t make them write every day. Let there be space for life and rest, adventure and nothingness. Write, but also don’t write. And whatever happens, don’t feel bad. It’s all rich compost for their minds.