Rest your brain, then write, edit and think better

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My writing here is, in the end, aimed at two things: finding the intersection of successful social media and vibrant editing, and showing how better editing fuels better writing and thinking,

As social-media enthusiasts are just starting to learn, it’s impossible to be 100%, 100% of the time. A breather is required, not just for recharging, but to gain context, to plan and consult, and to listen. And sometimes, it’s necessary to do nothing at all.

Editors and writers know what I’m talking about. Endless work on a story or project eventually leads to a dazed, blurry-eyed view. Words, sentences and paragraphs no longer make sense or not; they are just there. We must step away if we are to ever finish, retreat to move forward.

The good news? That stepping back, that do-nothing state, is not just a recovery. It’s an avenue to discovery — and we’re putting it at risk.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I never open a browser without also opening my e-mail. I check Facebook and Twitter constantly, without thinking and sometimes without a reason. I fret with unoccupied time and look to the quickest distraction to fill the uncertainty of, well, uncertainty. What is this refusal to disconnect doing to my brain? I don’t know.

But sometimes I succeed in giving my brain a chance to stretch and to explore. Here are a couple of takeaways I’ve had:

Getting away from the digital life isn’t about abstention: Quitting cold turkey is a move fraught with danger, and especially when there’s no replacement activity, thought process, etc. The mind doesn’t like vacuums, and will move to fill them. So what must we do? Form new habits, new routines, but ones that are different. A favorite habit of philosopher William James was writing on habits, and two quotes of his symbolize how we must work to rest our brains:

“In the acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible.”

“Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life.”

Brain rest isn’t about being comatose: Indulge your thoughts. While you’re on the bike, on a walk or sitting on mass transit, sketch out (in your head) that novel you want to write, do some people-watching, or think the thoughts and conversations you’d never want to voice. Productive? Not outwardly, except for when you get that burst of inspiration, that glittering new idea. Or, you’ll come back to what you’re writing, editing or otherwise working on, and view it in a new, better way. It’s then that you’ll know the value.

There’s a chance, for once, to actually do more with less: When you set aside certain times to check e-mail (or not check it), for instance, you’re technically leaving yourself less available time to check e-mail each day. But in setting a habit of dedicated connectivity at certain times, and dedicated disconnect at others, you’re giving yourself a fighting chance to better concentrate, to be more productive. You can also enjoy the downtime — which can come to mean almost anything — because you’re not fretting about being connected to your e-mail, social networks, projects, co-workers, etc.

The digital obsession is a chance to define yourself: The types of worries spawned by these articles and blog posts are actually a great opportunity. Rather than drift along, or be too consumed in day-to-day, hour-to-hour work tasks, you can decide to take the long view. Two questions will be answered: How will you define your professional life and personal life? And, will the habits and choices you make reflect who you are, or will they reflect the restraints you place on yourself?