One of the most powerful writing experiences I ever had took place almost ten years ago at a retreat called The Self as the Source of the Story. The teacher was a wonderful woman, Christina Baldwin, who had taught a workshop that I attended at a medical conference. The topic was not writing, but I had enjoyed learning from her and was thrilled to find out that she hosted a writing retreat every year.
Back then, I was slowly rediscovering my passion to write but I was still very self-conscious and unsure of myself.
The pace of life at the retreat was so different than my daily life–it was heaven. For a week this is what I and my fellow writers did: Get up and write, then attend a lecture on writing. Have lunch, then time to write again with another writing lecture in the late afternoon, then dinner and more time to write. I felt like I had come home to a part of myself I’d been missing for a long, long time.
Then we entered silence. We all agreed to remain silent for 36 hours. The time of silence began after dinner one evening, and continued throughout the next day, ending on the morning of the following day. During that time we ate together, spent time together, or at least near each other, and wrote together, all in total silence.
At the end of that day and half, we met outside to end our silence. We ate breakfast together, and then we met in circle to share something that we had written. Most people shared what they had written while in silence, but not all.
I wrote a poem.
Other than one really fun, epic poem about a food fight that I helped my brother write when we were both in high school, I had never written a poem.
I wrote that poem from a deep part of myself that I had never previously acknowledged. I wrote it during the long day of silence, a day in which I also ran in the woods and walked on the beach. The voice in the poem was in my head and then the pen was in my hand and the words just came. I wrote and revised and, when it felt complete, I just stopped. I remained in silence.
The next day as I read my poem to the group, I was very scared. I had never written anything as honest as that poem and I was literally shaking as I attempted to read it aloud. I made it through the poem and my fellow retreat participants were positive and supportive.
The other participants read their work and I was moved and amazed at the quality of the writing and, most striking, by the level of emotion that the work called out of each writer (and, as a result, out of us, the audience.) I don’t know if it was because of the silence, but every participant seemed to have accessed a part of themselves that was deeper and more authentic than usual.
It makes me want to do it again.
My life is not currently set up to allow me to go on a week-long writing retreat, though Christina is still hosting them (see her website for more information), but I am determined to find ways to incorporate silence into my writing life.
Recently, I found out about an online group called The Silent Writer’s Collective. They meet via Twitter and Facebook every Tuesday and write in silence for an hour. I didn’t think it could possibly be as powerful as my time in silence on the writing retreat, but I thought I’d try it.
Here’s what happened: I got a lot done.
Yay for silence!
Have you experienced writing in silence? How did it work for you?
Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a family physician, mother, Master Certified Life Coach and writer. She blogs for her life coaching business, Healing Choices. She is currently rewriting a novel she wrote for NaNo 2008, and putting in her “10,000 hours” to (try to) master the craft of writing.
Check out her life coaching blog here.