Actors and directors talk about “taking a beat” when working with action or dialogue. In essence, it’s a way of changing pace, or emphasis, or direction. In recent years, I’ve come to learn that taking a beat in life is one of the most important things we can do. It’s so easy to become submerged in the “must do” of being self-employed in an industry where, if you sit still for too long, it seems that the world might forget or overlook you. Don’t get me wrong – anyone who knows me knows that I’ve spent most of my life overworking wildly (and being roundly chastised for it). Just last year I spent fully 6 out of the available 12 months working 90 hours a week on constant repeat. I was burned out and unwell by the end of the process so why did I do it? Because the project that I was working on demanded it, and I was the one with reins. It was tough, it was a burden entirely of my own making and I never, ever want to do it again because enough, already.
That kind of lunacy aside – because it’s not like that all the time (honest, guv), I have finally… finally… learned that the best possible way to stay truly productive, both for myself and for everyone who relies on me professionally, is to take a beat.
For the last three days, I’ve been in beautiful Exmoor, working on a big piece of writing for The Voice College. It’s been a long time in the making, with months of research, more months of cogitation and sifting of information, then the writing process, editing, and finally turning all of that into a course format. I finished an entire section of the work during those few days, despite being in a cottage that was decidedly haunted (not to mention cold), and coming down with a nasty 24-hour ‘flu-like virus while I was there. The trip should have been a complete washout but it wasn’t, because I was somewhere “other than”. Working in a different environment – although it’s still working – causes the task to take on a different feel, and somehow to be easier.
As is usual with these things, I had to check out of the place mid-morning, and was looking at the 2.5 hour drive back home with no great glee. Actually with none at all.
I love the South West and never really want to leave it, so instead of pointing the car northward, I pointed it South, and drove across country for 2.5 hours to South Cornwall and a teensy harbour community where my heart resides no matter where I am geographically.
Once there, I took another beat, and a lot of photographs (I’m no good, but I enjoy it)! I also took a walk on the beach, then wandered back the unbelievably gruelling 100 yards or so that it takes to get to my favourite eatery…
I grabbed a bite to eat and cup of coffee, and caught up with emails / Twitter / Instagram / Facebook and whatever else needed my attention. On a normal day that can feel like a chore. Sitting harbourside in Cornwall I didn’t even notice that I was working. “At some point”, I thought, “I’ve got to drive home”. That’s another 3 hours in the car, but this time directly North, and a journey I’m well used to. “But before I set off, I’ll just have one more walk on the beach”.
So here I am, sitting on my favourite rock at the far end of my favourite beach, waiting for the sunset that I’m never quite around to capture. And while sitting here, the idea for a blog fell into my head, as it often does when I give myself the time and space to let it. So while I sit here, I’m writing. So you see, technically I’m working, but what I’m really doing is sitting on the beach wrapped up warm in my big coat and fingerless gloves (tricky to type otherwise), watching the water and the sky endlessly change colour, listening to the sound of the waves on the rocks and letting all of that clear my head ready for the days and weeks of “stuff to do” that await when I get back. I’m taking a beat.
That process of truly allowing our minds to clear seems to elude so many of us, but it’s what we most need in order to be creative.
Creativity (in all its forms) doesn’t like a busy brain: it likes space; it likes quiet; it likes to sneak up on us when we’re not really paying attention. When our minds are empty… that’s when we’re at our most creative. We think we’re relaxing when we have a glass of wine over dinner, or when we binge-watch the latest must-see box set. But that’s not really relaxing – it’s more like closing the door on that big pile of washing that we still haven’t done, because if we can’t see it, it’s not really there, right? We can forget it for a while. But we don’t forget it. It lurks in the back of the mind, nagging… That’s not taking a beat, it’s causing a distraction. Not the same thing at all.
Would I have written this if I hadn’t made a 2.5-hour diversion in the wrong direction just so I could see my favourite view, smell the sea and hear the waves for a couple of hours – if I hadn’t taken a beat? Nope. It would still be sitting in that metaphorical pile of washing, waiting for me to get around to it, dropping ever further down the list of priorities and making me feel guilty for not being superwoman. But I did make that diversion, and now I’ve had the priceless experience of watching the light on the water change every five minutes for the last hour or so, I’ve got some exercise (walking on the beach might not sound as virtuous as going jogging but who’s winning here?), breathed perfectly clean air into my lungs, washed my head clean… and finished this blog.
When people ask me if it was really worth making that diversion I will tell them that not only was it worth it, it was enough soul food to last a couple of weeks. So today, this week, this month, when you start telling yourself that being relentlessly busy is a virtue and that you’ll be a much better human being if you just work those extra 4 hours every day, perhaps instead you’ll ask yourself if it’s time to take a beat? (And yes, I’m aware of how very loudly the pot is calling to the kettle here… It took me forever to learn this, OK)?
Well, the tide’s coming in so I’d better get up off o’ this rock (and dance ’til I feel better – sorry, I never can resist finishing sentences with mangled lyrics) and head off back down the beach to the car. But wait, here comes that sunset…