Sometimes we need a break. Even writers will spend some idle time to unwind, relax, and attempt to let plot problems solve themselves.
There is, however, a right way and a wrong way to do this.
I find tuning out is the wrong way. This is the couch potato method: sit down and flip channels or surf Netflix until the wee hours of the night. Sure, it’s relaxing, but the brain isn’t in motion, it’s in pure sponge mode. Even if the writer’s internal editor is analyzing the plot of the flick or anticipating a climactic twist, all the effort is going into what’s on the screen rather than what’s in the writer’s notebook or on his hard drive.
Disengagement is much better. The subtle difference is disengagement is the result of doing something physical, something that is so automatic that the brain isn’t required to take command of things. Showers and walks around the blocks are popular examples from many writers. I’ve recently found going out for a run or hitting the weights is just as effective, and there have been several times I used my phone to email brief notes to myself during walking intervals on the track.
The body and the hands are on autopilot, so the brain is free to wander. Plots move in new directions. Characters rise and fall, or bring new dialog. Short stories and novels unfold.
In short, writers, choose your idle activity wisely. Don’t let the one-two punch of the desk and couch take its toll on your body. Get out and get some exercise and use that time to brainstorm. It will be good for you and for your work.