The Joys of Rumination
Why slowing down is crucial for creativity
Recently, in a shop in Covent Garden, I came across this beautiful old Remington Portable typewriter. It occurred to me that I couldn’t really write fast on this machine, even if I bashed frantically at its keys. Somehow, the Remington is made for slower thinking than my sleek MacBook Air, with its mad, clicking keys, and broadband Internet access.
A lot of the time, like my touch-typing fingers, I’m moving at 100 mph, doing any number of tasks simultaneously – rushing to meet deadlines, remember packed lunches, sign consent forms, buy birthday cards, children’s pants or cat flea ointment. It’s endless. Finding time to write, as a working mother in the eye of this family storm, can feel like an indulgence. Writing novels, after all, is just sitting in a room making things up. What could be less urgent? Less important? Less time sensitive?
But writing is what I do. It’s what I want to do. It also happens to be what I’m paid to do – I have a novel deadline to work to right now. And yet despite all this, I sometimes have to remind myself that it’s OK to stop doing all that other stuff.
Writing involves rumination, and rumination is slow. It means putting the other things on hold – even if it’s only for half an hour. I can’t ruminate and simultaneously make lists, or fill out consent forms, or answer emails. I’ve tried - it doesn’t work.
Some of my most productive ‘writing’ has actually happened while taking the dog for a stroll, or sitting with a glass of wine, chatting to my husband. It’s important to slow down enough to think, to mull over, to cogitate. If I allow myself to drift online, clicking on things that just feel interesting, I occasionally make great discoveries. Of course, I also waste a lot of time. But sometimes this sort of slow, pointless ‘time-wasting’ leads to a genuine breakthrough - a new character, a perfect reference, the clarification of a theme that’s been lurking in the draft, unexplored.
Of course, it can be hard to distinguish between pointless, self-indulgent procrastination and a more productive slowing down. But generally, I find that time-wasting feels uncomfortable, itchy, irritating - whilst rumination is satisfying, even stimulating.
Slowing down takes determination though. Nothing is ‘getting done’, and this can feel selfish – almost recklessly so at times. Rumination is almost a discipline. But when it comes to my own writing, it’s vital.
Lucy Atkins's debut novel The Missing One is the first Psychologies Book Club pick.
Follow Lucy on Twitter @lucyatkins