Herding Fish

coaching for artists and makers


21 September 2022

Even at the best of times creative practice has very particular challenges that take effort to keep on track. It’s hugely demanding to maintain focus and bring yourself back to clarity. All while providing your own structure and holding your own boundaries. To be fully ON for the work that needs it, we also need to time to be fully OFF, to rest and restore.

At this point we’ve all been wading through chaos and uncertainty in our personal and political lives for nearly three years. Is anybody out there not tired? Even in the olden days I used to crave a personal fortnight that could slot in between linear time. A few days to duck out and do all the things I was behind on, then join back in tomorrow without having missed anything else. Like a holiday but without the notifications.

Speaking of holidays, did anyone else get this from VAI over the summer and wonder how many artists are taking sun-drenched holidays?

Doing Nothing

I’ve written before about Creativity and Rest and these gems re-activated my rest-craving radar just as Rebecca Solnit added her voice to the theme (23.08.22 Twitter):

If you’re sick or injured and healing or growing a new life inside you or just worn out, please notice that that thing known as ‘doing nothing’ is when you’re doing the utterly crucial and precious work of growing and healing and restoring. This also goes for everyone who’s just worn down, exhausted, dispirited, and who’s not that right now? I’m not the Nap Ministry but I’m for the power of rest and the holiness of respite and the you that is your cells and circulatory system and all those inner workings that are so mysterious and necessary and regenerative if we let them be. The psyche too does most of its work out of sight, and the imagination, and so creative work too benefits from rest and respite. As a writer I benefit greatly from leaving the work alone and coming back to it fresh, as one does with a relationship; pause, stoppage, inaction, inattention can all be wildly generative, and if they’re not that might be its own kind of fruitful that cannot be measured.


Take refuge in that beautiful stillness in which everything is happening in all the ways that nothing is happening in busyness. Everything happening in the depths, like deep water under a reflective surface, a lake reflecting clouds with schools of fish in the depths. Seeds germinating underground. Sitting still as zazen or just daydreaming or watching clouds is an act of revolt against the shouts that we should be doing something/do more/do more faster that are all around us. If you find that nothing is hard to do, it’s exactly because it’s this kind of revolt against the production/ consumption juggernaut that is a kind of war against rest, depth, and the earth. Inaction might be another face of peace in our times with stillness the ceasefire in which spring comes again.


Seven types of rest

But if (like me) the idea of doing nothing freaks you out, a different approach might be more appealing. Long before the pandemic Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith had identified 7 types of rest. She says: “we typically think of ‘rest’ as ‘relief’ but it can also mean ‘support’ … anything that adds to our energy budget rather than depleting it”.

The seven types of rest Dalton-Smith defines are:

  • physical rest
  • mental rest
  • emotional rest
  • sensory rest
  • social rest
  • creative rest
  • spiritual rest


What I like about this approach is there’s no expectation that rest is Doing Nothing. Nor is it rest as solitary retreat – unless that actually suits you (which it might if you’re a raging introvert like me). Instead Dalton-Smith breaks down the idea of rest into small ways you can support and restore different aspects of yourself. A buffet of nourishing actions that are more immediately doable, like taking a 5 minute break from your screen, or going for a walk with a friend. There’s even a quiz if you want to check how you’re doing – I found it surprisingly accurate.

Keep on track

It takes effort to keep a creative practice on track and build in supports that work for you. I’ll be launching a new accountability group next month, so keep an eye out for that if you’d like bit of community around staying on track with yourself.