By Michelle Gunnin
“Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together; that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of Life, which they are thenceforth to rule.” Thomas Carlyle
Are We Just Producing Noise?
Our world is busier and more connected than ever before. For writers, this is a good thing. We can find information at the touch of a button. All the opinions, varied sides, plus the pros and cons of any issue are available in seconds. If we need information on a particular place for a story, we don’t have to travel there, we can find everything we need online; it’s research without ever leaving our homes. Need some historical context for a story? Just Google it.
Our jobs should be easier than ever, right? We should be the most productive and efficient we have ever been, right? Unfortunately, that is not what I hear from most of my writer friends. Instead, we are experiencing more writer’s block. We lack new and innovative ideas. Or, if we do have ideas, we don’t have the time to get them onto the page. We have to fit writing in after family events, work activities, church or volunteer commitments, and mountains of busyness. We find ourselves frustrated with the inability to use all that is at our fingertips.
Noise, Chaos, and Writer’s Block
I have a file of scrap pieces of paper with ideas on them. Napkins, envelopes, receipts, all of them with a phrase or a topic scribbled in haste, so I won’t forget them. I have even gone technological and started writing my ideas in my notepad on my phone, only to recognize they never make it into a story.
What I find most maddening about this, is my lack of ability to translate them into the masterpieces I imagined them to be. I should be producing more and better work than ever before, but it isn’t happening.
What I find instead is a nagging voice in my head, reminding me of all I am not accomplishing. I have thought it through.
Quiet Time: A Necessity for Writers
In fact, our down time is now the hottest commodity, being bought and sold by businesses who clamor for every moment, all under the guise of being more productive. I can work from my phone while commuting on a train, or listen to music while hiking or working out. Standing in line, waiting, I can read a book on my Kindle while waiting in line in an office, or on a plane.
In essence, I can fill every silent moment with noise. There are even TVs at the gas pumps now, so I won’t be bored in the 3 minutes I am pumping! There is no escaping the barrage of images and sounds being thrown at me.
No wonder I struggle to think and continue to hit mental barriers that prevent my ideas from flowing.
I have not been given the silence to contemplate and chew over my own thoughts. I have some of my best ideas while I am sleeping, because it is the only time I am still and quiet enough for my mind to process!
How do we, as writers, solve this problem? Here are a few ideas that might help.
Turn off the Technology
- Be intentional – I know the word intentional is being thrown around quite a bit these days. It simply means to intend to do something. If I want my mind to process all those ideas, I have to actually make space and quit just talking about it. How do we become intentional?
- Schedule writing on the calendar as if it matters.
- Set aside time to study the craft of writing.
- Find silence so you can hear the words.
- Disconnect – When technology is coming at me it is a real trick to put it down. It takes will power and courage. It might be frightening to be alone with my thoughts at first, but I have found once my head stops spinning, I find silence infuses me with energy. I have to remember all those before me lived just fine without being tethered to one another.
- Go old school – When was the last time you wrote a piece out in longhand? I can’t remember the last time I did. Maybe it’s time to try going back to pencil and paper. Sometimes a change of format can blow oxygen onto the spark of an idea.
Put Yourself in Solitary Confinement
“Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.” Francis Bacon
- Set aside time – It seems like every accomplished writer talks about setting aside time to write. Could that be why they are so accomplished? Whether I book a weekend at a cabin in the woods, or carve out a couple of hours alone after work, setting side time is critical for writing. It keeps the thoughts from clogging up my brain.
- Develop a signal – Teach your family a “mommy-is-writing-do-not-disturb” signal. If the office door is closed they know not to enter. I put a sign on the door, or schedule a specific time so that they know I am not to be disturbed during that hour. Pick a certain chair to sit in. I used to sit at the kitchen table in my writing chair with my computer and they knew to keep on walking. This is a challenge if your kids are small, but the signal can be used during times they are occupied elsewhere or AFTER they are all in bed.
- Become unavailable – Never in the history of mankind have we been more available, to our boss, to our friends, and to our families. The cell phones are like an umbilical cord tying us to everyone we know. This makes it even more important for me to plan to be unavailable sometimes. I consider it setting a boundary for my well-being, not to mention what it does for me to be uninterrupted while I am writing. I get my responsibilities covered and then shut off the outside world for a bit of “me time”.
Silence is Golden
Silence is golden to a writer. Building more silent moments into our lives will infuse our creative juices. It will give our brains a much-needed rest from the noise by giving oxygen to the sparks of ideas we carry around on scraps of paper, and then, those ideas will burst into flames of masterful writing.
In silence, is where thoughts can speak to my imagination, and where my beliefs and opinions are hashed out. Our world is no longer silent, and it certainly doesn’t allow time for silence, but we can and should make time for silence and better writing.
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Michelle Gunnin is an everyday woman who is a writer, a wife, a mom of four nearly grown children, a teacher, a colleague, a sister, and a daughter.
She is also a cancer survivor, a caregiver, and a recovering Pharisee. While determined to be in the moment and live fully…both things life has taught her, she has more questions than answers, and she writes to explore both.
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Michelle has an extensive amount of published work on Two Drops of Ink. Click this link for all of her posts: Michelle Gunnin