Unplugging: How Writers Do It

computer in trash can

by Jenna Kalinsky.

The conventional idea of people needing to “unplug” shows just how closely aligned to machines we have become. Nearly everyone nowadays is overheated, fried, and more than ready for the spinning wheel to stop its endless spinning. All we can talk about is how burned out we are.

Yet while the need to unplug is universal, and more important than ever before given how the pandemic has ratcheted up most people’s burnout by a factor of 10, how we do it is not. Common wisdom suggests a full extrication from work and into the human-centred behaviours that are slower, quieter, less requiring thought (beach reads!)

How a writer unplugs however looks quite different (which you can read about in our article “Self-Care for Writers: It’s All in How You Frame It”, and to the lay person, still like work, which can be confusing to the writer caught in the push-pull of what they think they should do and what they want to do to unplug and recharge their specific creative batteries.


I learned this when I found myself stuck in an intersection of what I believed I needed to do to unplug and what my mind and body wanted to do during a long-awaited six-day trip to the woods. I spent many extra hours before the trip ensuring a smooth departure (the irony of all those late nights to prepare to not work was not lost on me) and luxuriated in preparing to enter a kind of natural state, a human-centred meditation.

I packed a month’s worth of books, running shoes, and a bag full of sunscreen, intending to go flat, stop the whirring, and let my thoughts loosen and float off into the summer sky.

The hiccup I experienced was that as a writer, to work is who I am. Writers create not necessarily because we want to but because it’s how we operate in the world. Bumping up against this made me feel guilty: but I’m not supposed to be working! I’m supposed to be one with the &$^# sky!

It took a few days, but I eventually came around to recognize that my argument was with semantics and others’ ideas of self-care that do not apply to the writer. I stopped listening to what I was “supposed” to be doing and started doing what felt right. The light switching on was a good thing. From that point forward, I revelled in unplugging by plugging in to the kind of thinking, connection-making, engaging, and making in ways that felt natural to me.

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spiral notebook with pen and writing

The time I spent in this intersection I like to think is another metaphor, this time for writing: we may write for years and share or publish none of it, but all those years of pages lead us to what eventually becomes the work that makes it out into the world. I needed to identify what my place in the self-care canon was so I could embrace how it made sense to me in full.

Rather than following others’ ideas of unplugging and entering a state of eat-sleep-swim-thoughtlessness (which still sounds appealing in short doses but would probably be torture for much longer!) how writers do it is to keep creating but remove the exo-structures of schedule and deadline.

Being released from being beholden to the work and its outcomes is a huge relief. Continuing to create, to process, and to mine our experiences to make meaning and to have the mental and physical space to do just that without being concerned with doing something with it – that’s where a writer is in deep meditation and as unplugged as it gets.

person sitting on dock at lake surrounded by mountains

For many writers, unplugging looks like being more creative for the sheer pleasure of being creative. Taking pictures of something beautiful or inspirational, moving the body for the sheer pleasure of making it work through the air, and indulging in simple pleasures one at a time are enormously relaxing, a relief from the pressure and performance of daily life, and invite creativity in its purest form.

And reading: reading for pleasure, for the sheer joy of the music of the line, the inquiry, the submersion into another world, whether it’s true crime or Proust, as writer Binnie Kirshenbaum does every summer. What matters is that it’s bringing you something, what writer Hildegarde Hawthorne wrote in 1907, “A deep peace fills your soul. Here is this delicious book and the whole day, both yours.”

novel krista foss Half Life with metal coffee cup in woods

As for me, I sat on a lake dock with two incredible recently released novels by One Lit Place writing coaches and editors: The Parasol Flower by Karen Quevillon and Half Life by Krista Foss, both gorgeously complex works of literary fiction, kayaked until my shoulders ached, and took pictures of the cottage typewriter, trees, and frogs because I liked thinking about things I could do with them.

Some might call these efforts work. A writer would call it heaven.


typewriter on moss-covered picnic table in woods

Life is too busy, clotted with information, high emotion, need, and more stress than most people wish to bear. It is so important for us to have the opportunity to walk away from that for however long we can – an hour, a day, a month- without guilt, knowing that engaging in the kind of unplugging that suits a writer brings us back to ourselves in rich and dynamic ways.

We are in service when we are plugged in, but when we can unplug to rest and relax in the ways that make sense to our natural proclivities, the world is ultimately a better place for it.

Your creativity and how you bring it to your writing matters- contact us any time to talk about your work and how you’d like to see it grow. We’re always happy to chat. Sign up for your free consultation today!

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