Shhh!: The Writer and Silence
Each Saturday, whenever the weather permits, Cathy and I enjoy a picnic at our local metro park. We have a spot away from the beaten path, and we like relaxing there after the stresses of the work week. We start in the spring, once it’s warm enough, and we keep going until autumn cools enough to make it uncomfortable to be outside. Today is beautiful here in central Ohio. After a week of cold temperatures and howling winds, we have sunshine and warmth. So we went to our spot, perhaps for the last time this season.
I love being in a place where human-made noise is at a minimum. Today, we heard the scrabble of a chipmunk in the underbrush. On occasion, we could hear the mumbled conversations of passing hikers, but for the most part we existed in silence. We both needed that after tough work weeks for both of us.
We writers need that respite as well. We can be an intense lot, driving ourselves to keep to a regular writing schedule, and I’ve always said writing is self-generating—the more regular our writing routine, the better we write—but there’s something to be said for taking a break from time to time, not only to recharge but to let the unconscious parts of our brains work over some problem we’re encountering with what we’re writing. A peaceful getaway can also invite daydreaming which can lead to ideas for future work. When we’re still and have silence around us, we can be more open to what the world is trying to give us—characters, plots, dialogue, imagery, etc.
I remember reading once that Alice Walker believed if she were still, her characters would start to speak. It’s true. We can’t listen unless we’re quiet. Finding times and places, then, in which we can enjoy the lack of noise becomes important to making us more sensitive to where our writing wants to take us.
When Cathy and I finally left our picnic spot and headed back to our car, we found a family—a mother and father and three small children, two boys and a girl—just getting out of their SUV with their own picnic foods in hand. Only there was a problem. The girl didn’t want to get out of the vehicle.
“Anytime, Miss Gracie,” the father said.
He and the boys would go on ahead. The mother would stay to convince Miss Gracie to join them. Of course, to me Gracie’s resistance becomes enough to begin a story, and her father’s line stays in my mind. “Anytime, Miss Gracie.” It could even be a title. My point is we sometimes have to empty ourselves before we can return to the world ready to receive what it might give us. We have to find a place of quiet in order to prepare ourselves for the sparks people’s comings and goings can provide.
This was thought provoking for many reasons: insightful on the creative process as well as the observations of human beings and their behaviors.
Thanks. (Great also for sparking my own writing process such as it is.)
Thanks for your comment, Jane. I think writers are always close observers of people and their behaviors.