Writing with a Day Job: Wise Rest

Greetings yet again! This is part three of four in my series on busy writers. Trying to write a novel but only have an hour (or less) a day to write? Working a job you can’t stand but really want to be a novelist? Or shuffling between parenting your kids, managing a house, and working outside the home? I hope this can be a source of inspiration, encouragement, and solid advice for you. Previously, I’ve written about productivity and community, both necessary elements of a strong writing practice. Today, I intend to touch on a third element that I personally wrestle with: wise rest.

I use the term wise here because I think “rest” can have some tricky connotations. There’s a difference between soul-filling rejuvenation and mind-numbing laziness. Now, I think turning your brain off every once in a while is fine, and maybe needed, but if our “rest” is mostly scrolling on our phones, I would challenge you to consider whether or not you actually feel refreshed afterward. There are wiser ways to rest, or forms of rest that actually fill us up and restore our energy.

As a Christian, too, Sabbath—a day of rest—is a biblical mandate. Yet Sabbath isn’t self-seeking self-care; it’s designed for the worship of God. It’s about accepting our limits as human beings after a long week of work. I sometimes have referred to my writing as “rest,” simply because I don’t get to focus on it the majority of my weekday. However, my writing is work, no matter how many hours a week I put into it. It can also be worship, at times, but most of the time, it feels primarily like work. I personally need to remember that a Sabbath from writing is good for me and makes me a better writer in the long run.

Speaking of Sabbaths from writing, not too long ago, I went away with my family and some friends for a weekend lake trip. I planned to just write and read the whole time we were there and had a long to-do list for my weekend. Yet almost as soon as I got there, we took a boat ride on the lake and I realized that the best use of my time that weekend would be to just rest. To set aside my agenda and just be present at the lake with the people I was with. My writing brain did do some work: I wrote down ideas that came to me while we were cruising around or tubing, and I even dared to bring my notebook with me to jot down a scene while on the boat one morning. I also got some time to read, too. The rest was good for me, and I didn’t regret taking a Sabbath from my usual routine. It was rejuvenating, and a good reminder for me of the principles I wrote down about how to rest wisely.

1) Accept your limits: I personally struggle to find the balance between accepting my limits versus giving into laziness. Often when I seek out rest—even if I probably need it—I feel guilty or restless. Yet other times, I push myself too hard and hit a wall. My body forces me to rest by getting sick or feeling utterly exhausted. We have to know our limits and accept them to avoid burnout. At the same time, we also shouldn’t make excuses to get out of working hard and just be lazy.

Be honest about your needs. Do you need to take a break? Then take one. Do you need to keep pushing for any reason? Then persist. Honestly assessing your needs perhaps also varies person to person and from season to season. Take stock of your week, what deadlines you have coming up, what spare moments you might have to write or rest, what days are busier than others. Assess your energy levels and opportunities you may have to focus. Ask those closest to you for their opinion (though be careful of what you ask for if you’re not prepared for hard truth!). Accept what you can and cannot accomplish in a given day, and don’t let guilt for resting make you overextend yourself. Find the right balance for you.

2) Restful, not wasteful: As I wrote towards the beginning of this post, I don’t view zoning out on our phones as very restful. In fact, at risk of being controversial, I often find it wasteful of my time. I try to use my phone in moderation and only use social media infrequently to engage with friends or content creators I enjoy. But I admit, I’m susceptible to getting sucked down the rabbit hole of Instagram Reels and YouTube videos. It’s a struggle, and one that’s forced me to reflect more deeply on how I spend my time and how easy it is to waste it in the digital smart phone age. I’m trying to be better at filling my rest time with things that feed my soul.  

In other words, I’m seeking to be better at resting in a way that honors the Sabbath’s design for taking a break from work and finding delight in the Lord. Some examples of what this looks like in practice: spending time with community, baking a new recipe or a familiar one, engaging with meaningful stories (whether in a book or on screen), playing a game, praying, getting out in nature—and the list goes on. Essentially, soul-filling rest should draw us closer together to God or with others. Reading a good book can remind me of themes I see in Scripture or challenge me to think more deeply about the world. Playing a game with my family often brings out a lot of laughter and great memories that makes our relationships with one another stronger. Rest isn’t a matter of checking out; it’s reflective and engaging.

Also, a caveat for my fellow introverts: I recognize a lot of my suggestions for rest are community-oriented. I’m not saying here that wise, soul-filling rest must involve people, only that it can. Engaging with people isn’t always restful for me. It depends on the people or the activity. Some days, I do just need to shut myself in my room to read or go on a walk to pray in solitude. Rest can absolutely happen in solitude, and sometimes, it needs to.

3) Schedule rest and stick to it: If you struggle with either accepting your limits or resting in a soul-filling way, maybe scheduling when you will rest and what you’ll do during that time will help you form better resting habits. It could be as simple as choosing to stop working at a certain hour in the evening and reading before bed, or saying you won’t write on Sundays. It could mean setting aside an afternoon or evening each week to intentionally spend time with family or do something fun in your city.

Or perhaps your struggle is on the other side of the pendulum: you’re quick to give into resting over working on your writing after a long day at your 8-5. One strategy you may consider is setting up restful activities as rewards for writing progress. Set a goal of writing five chapters in a week, then on Saturday, go to a movie or play a video game. Or with every chapter you write in the evening, reward yourself with a chapter of reading before bed. Don’t be overly flexible with yourself on this, though. Set smart goals so you can actually meet them, and loop an accountability partner in to help if you’re unable to discipline yourself.

Rest is hard for me, and I don’t always follow my own advice. I don’t like to take a break, especially when it feels like there’s so much to work on or so much I want to do. Yet I’ve learned to be better at it, to find a balance that helps me avoid crashing completely and allows me to take a true Sabbath. I’m certainly not perfect at it. It may take time for you to find a rhythm of rest that fits your season, too.

There’s one topic for Writing with a Day Job I’d like to address. In two weeks, let’s finish out this series with the final ingredient any busy writer needs: Drive.