Monday Must: Rest Is The Best Thing For Writers
Hi, I’m Sarah, I’m a writer and editor based in Toronto. I’ve written for publications such as The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Walrus, VICE, CBC Arts, and many, many more. I’m currently working as an editorial manager at Shopify, working on longform narrative stories about our merchants. I’m also writing my first book of essays.
When I was laid off from VICE in the winter of 2018, I panicked. About money, of course, but purpose, too, needled its way into the fore of my brain as I imagined the writerly clout I had developed for the past five years sliding away. So I worked. I pitched stories like I had never pitched before. I took on assignments. I checked my inbox every ten minutes and responded quickly, brightly, to every request that came my way. I wanted to stay relevant, sharp, and needed.
In 2018, I wrote nearly 100 articles for several publications. And then I did it all over again in 2019. The money wasn’t great. I was exhausted from staying up late, working tight deadlines, mulling over complex ideas, trying to make them digestible. (A favourite among media and publishing industries, or any content for that matter, is “snackable content.” I had been devoured.)
It was in 2020—I promise not coinciding with the pandemic—that I started to feel a fatigue I hadn’t felt in years. I didn’t want to write about music or culture. I didn’t care about taking on interviews, something I love to do. I didn’t care to tweet about my work anymore, be the writer brand I had long developed, and instead preferred to default to basketball memes (Norman Powell superfan right here) and astrology.
In the early days of the pandemic, I wrote about solitude and being alone, and how beautiful that is when you really come to understand it. Pandemic or not, I still firmly believe in the ways my body and mind ask me to rest—to step back from everything, from my work, even if I hate it, and swirl about in anxious clouds all day about my purpose.
Rest comes in many forms. Self-care, if used superficially, isn’t really care at all. Leaning into the ways I can exist in my body and brain always helps me figure out where I need to go next in my creative work. Now, as a year away from creative writing wanes, there is a fire in my belly fuelling my desire to work. To take the rest I’ve long needed and go create.
Drown it out
If you’ve made a career out of writing about something you love, it can feel too much like work far too quickly. The reason I have been drawn to music my entire life is the way it makes my body feel and how it soothes my mind. Music is so beautifully imaginative too. The way any art can bring you back to yourself is such a special gift of the artist. I’ve often thought cinematically—imagining the world around me in this narrative continuously running through my brain. By stepping back from writing about music, by enveloping myself within it, I can see through the drudgery of that work and be part of a love ballad or solemn hymn, piecing myself back together one verse at a time.
Nourish your mind
My first and only real writer advice is that to be a good writer, not the best writer, one should read everything they can. I know that my brain is lagging when I stop reading for pleasure. I believe all reading is pleasure reading, in a sense, because you’re giving in to the work in front of you, whether it’s a book of poetry or an academic’s book. Articles, books, zines, anything related or not to what I’m working on, or thinking about working on, have such an impact on me first as a human and then as a writer. A writer’s voice will help me to find mine or give me space to think of an idea a little differently. The form of a book might help me figure out how my essay collection ought to be constructed. Reading is nourishment and it is my favourite way to feed myself.
There is nothing quite like floating in a bath that smells like divine lavender. Bathing opens up my brain. I’m a water sign, a tough, soft Scorpio, who feels immediate calm the minute I’m near water. The years I spent within a short walking distance to Lake Ontario are among my favourites. I went there day in and day out, watching the water slide over rocks and sand on the beach, gently lapping at the city’s edge. In a bathtub, I watch the water move across my body as piles of bubbles dissipate into nothing but fresh scent. I feel free, loose.
Living my life, as it turns out, became my most powerful form of rest. It is perhaps silly to think that living, socializing, packing my days with stuff to do, would not be rest but it is. The days I spend walking around the city with my disposable camera, finding new ways to fall in love with Toronto, are some of the best. Meeting a friend out for a drink that becomes two and then three and then my face is flushed and warm and it feels like no night out will ever feel that way again. But then it does and it’s still always a surprise.
I write from my life’s experiences. If I have nothing I’ve experienced, what will I write about? Sometimes hitting pause on the creative work or whatever project I’ve been thinking about and not actually doing, and instead go out to hike in High Park or sit in Scotiabank Arena at a Toronto Raptors game will do the absolute most good for me.www.sarahsmacdonald.com