Every once in a while I pause and read an old blog post. This one was first published on June 30, 2010. The photo caught my eye first — how precious these images become as time goes on. It’s been six years since I sat down and scribbled out this essay, and it seemed just as pertinent now as then. We all need a pause every once in a while. May yours be grand!
Before starting Page after Page by Heather Sellers, I’d read some reviews of the book by some who didn’t completely agree with her method. However, I’m not among them. After all, Sellers advocates napping as an imperative in the writing life.
She had me at the word “siesta.”
My history of napping begins at a young age, when I abhorred napping. I would think of every excuse not to nap. Napping was pure boredom at age 4. So much so that I told my babysitter my mom had said I no longer had to nap and she believed me. Though it was a lie that my mother had said so, there must have been some truth to my feelings that naps were so yesterday at that point, unless staring at the ceiling for two hours qualifies as one.
But around high school, I started to crave, even live for, naps, especially after lunchtime. My wonderful math teacher, Mr. Olson, actually let me nod off every so often while he spouted off algorithms and principles of the Pythagorean Theorem. He must have known I’d never master geometric equations without an adequate supply of shuteye (and, most likely, not even afterward, being the word-type person I was from the start).
In college, I perfected the afternoon snooze, and when I had the chance to travel Europe toward the end of that journey, I became convinced I’d missed the boat by having been born in America, where midday rests are not built into the culture.
And of course, motherhood, a time when napping is sacred, both to child and mother alike. Ah yes, in embracing motherhood I embraced naps, too, became the Queen of Napping, in fact.
So what’s my excuse now that my children are mostly done with naps for survival? Well, I’m a writer. And most serious writers are mindful of the necessity of naps to the writing life.
Sellers put it all down in black and white, making her my writing rock star of the month. It appears in a chapter she names “Blank and Cranky.”
“The qualities that make me an artist are the ability to obsess on minutiae and the ability to feel intensely,” she says. (I’m so with you here, Sellers.)
“These qualities also make me prone to being swamped by a mood and getting sidetracked by obsessive worrying.” (Okay, I’ll admit to being prone to that on occasion as well.)
Sellers says many people, when they’re swamped by a bad mood, “call in the disciplinarian and put themselves on a program.”
Bad idea, she adds, noting that a bad mood in writers responds best to two things, one of which is…you got it…napping.
Though she admits such a tactic feels counterintuitive at first, she swears by it. It’s sort of like reverse psychology. “To get rid of the thing you don’t want, you can’t reject it. You have to go into it further. This makes no sense, I know, but it really, really works.”
So when you’re in a writing funk, don’t resist it, go with it. Take the night off, Sellers suggests. Nap or wallow, the only two choices. “That’s what you’re going to be doing anyway, perhaps with the veneer of activity, but your work won’t be good work. Give it up. Get over yourself.”
I’m thinking again of my high-school math teacher, who would, whenever he felt a cold coming on, take a pill that would actually hasten the process, make the cold worse, bring it on with a vengeance so that it would whip through his body at an accelerated pace, but then be over with. Yes, he’d have a nasty cold for a day or so, but then the bug would be ancient history.
Same thing here. If you need some wallowing time, if you just need a rest, don’t deny yourself. I can’t tell you how many good ideas have come to me either during or right after a nap or a good night’s sleep. There’s really something to this, and it’s something I caught on to a long time ago, despite the naysayers in my life who sneered at my napping schedule.
Writers need to conserve their best energy for the good stuff. Writers who are also mothers are particularly vulnerable to being sucked dry emotionally, mentally and even physically on a daily basis. The need for a restorative nap is not selfish or slothful. It’s part of the way creative people re-energize so they can get to the good stuff. It’s the way we replenish our reserves so we can do the work we’re called to do.
So go ahead. Indulge in that nap if you can. Work it into your schedule if needed. As Sellers says, “You have to be able to waste time. To spend it, luxuriously, in order to write.”
It’s summertime. Nap away. Then live your waking moments with fresh exuberance.