Becoming a better writer: the importance of silence

As a writer, you have voices in your head.

There’s your muse, inner critic, and story characters; your mentors, friends, and parents; other writers, agents, and literary pundits. It makes for a lot of noise in there. Add the barrage of external chatter and you have quite the cacophony. For most of us, it’s a ceaseless stream of incoming information, internal monologue, and the slippery and shadowy musings of the subconscious. It can easily become overwhelming, but we’ve adapted to the constant onslaught. We find a way to keep working.

But, to become a better a writer, you need to find a way to quiet all those voices.

There is a place inside you where stillness reigns. It’s not easy to get there, but there is creative magic in that haven of quiet and calm.

My friend Bernardo recently talked about this place, this “heart of the hurricane.” In this brief video, he talks about how we hold the whole and complete essence of our life’s experience at this core.

Episode-263 from Yourgreatlifetv.com on Vimeo.

I believe Bernardo is right. I believe we have the answers within us, if only we could get quiet enough to hear that small, still voice. In response to his post I wrote, “Finding the center and establishing a home there is so important to a life well lived. We each have to be able to hear the whisperings of our own heart if we are ever to know the secrets and dreams that are ours to hold and realize.”

As writers, we need that connection more than most.

We need it understand what drives us to create. We need it to unearth the stories that are ours to tell. We need it to become better at our craft.

A theme of silence has been twining through my days lately. Last week I was mostly absent from the web, abandoning Twitter, Facebook, and my beloved blogs for a week off with my beau. We spent a couple of afternoons at the beach – walking and talking, walking and not talking. I could almost feel the noise and rush of my hurricane edges settling and falling away – opening a wider and wider path to that quiet place in my heart. My head began to clear. Ideas emerged, shyly at first but then more boldly. Pieces of puzzles I’d been worrying at for months fell effortlessly into place.

As I came back to the Real World – the world of email and deadlines and the daily chaos and joy of my daughter – it’s wasn’t easy to hold onto the delicate thread that I was following through the forest of voices. As I sat to write, the voices began their usual clamoring. Having been neglected for a few days, each was eager to be heard – to imprint its opinions on my heart, direct my writing with critique, or divert me entirely from my task. But then I was reminded of the value of silence by a Twitter exchange with two friends – one old and one new – who were planning silent retreats. I’m not ready to go days without speaking, but the conversation reminded me that silence is, indeed, golden when it comes to connecting with my creative heart.

How often do you give yourself the gift of silence? What can you hear when you hush all the other voices in your head and listen to the one voice that really matters? How do those conversations affect your writing?
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

19 thoughts on “Becoming a better writer: the importance of silence

  1. Nice piece. And true. We can’t always walk on that beach everyday…. though the “dropping everything” like Facebook, bloging, and twitter is a good start. Recently retired, I have found that working on past neglected property repairs is a nice diversion. Also a help was walking four to five days a week for 50 minutes to an hour. Going fishing seems good. I never catch much and funny thing is that bothered me when younger but now no longer does. I don’ care.

    • Thank you, Tim.
      I personally love to “putter” – meander around the house doing odd chores, filing things, sifting through old journals. Like your property repairs or catch-less fishing, this type of activity seems to help me keep my mind free by keeping my hands busy.
      I’m not much for meditation (have tried, but always challenged), so this type of “moving meditation” works well for me. All kinds of good ideas pop into my head when I least expect them. 😉

      Thanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts.

  2. Dear Jamie,

    Thank you for sharing this, not just mi video but these beautiful and insightful words about deepening the bond between us, silence and stillness. You can never remind someone enough times (or ways) to just be, and therefore I’m grateful to hear your lovely voice opening to this and explaining it so gracefully.

    Huge hug to you.

    Bernardo

    • There is not nearly enough silence in the world, right?
      I wonder what would happen if everyone was quiet for just an hour. What sorts of changes would that bring about? How would people relate to each other and to themselves?
      It’s fascinating, really.

      But, for me, I’ll just keep working at carving out my own moments of quiet. They change my world and I’ll change the Big World from there.
      🙂

  3. Jamie, this is such an insightful post, and your reminder that we can choose silence is SO needed in this day and age of constant distraction and noise.

    P.S. Cancelled the 10 day retreat and have confirmed a 3 day retreat instead – that one is making my heart sing!

    • “Choosing silence” … I love that idea, Sabrina. It IS a choice. One that we can make each day.

  4. It’s not just silence, but happy or contented silence that makes the difference. I was off line for two weeks, out of my daily routine, and theoretically with nothing else to do but think and be creative. But I ended up so frustrated by a number of little things that my brain was anything but quiet. It was an enforced silence without any letting go, I suppose.

    • “Easy silence” is a phrase I’ve heard often – as in the “easy silence” between friends. I think we need to befriend silence. Though the relationship might start off a bit rocky, with time (and patience) we can develop a strong bond.

  5. Yup. I putz. While I’m putzing I’m telling myself I’m being quiet, being distracted from the chaos…but I’m fooling myself. Recently, my daughter needed to be tripped over to Portsmouth to a summer internship. Too far to make a round trip twice (gas prices being what they are!), I spent every Thursday at the Portsmouth Library. Quiet. Phone off, away from the washer & dryer that compelled me to do laundry, away from the errands that needed to be done. I found myself working diligently. Great, right? But I also took time to read – for pleasure – and to deliberate stop and sit with my thoughts. Sometimes I’d take a drive in the car, park under a big tree, read, take a break and SIT. At first it was hard. I felt guilty. Like I was cheating by not doing something. But that feeling quickly dissipated. I started NOTICING more, in my stillness. The variations of colors and shapes in the leaves, the smells, the feel of the breeze, etc. It made me think back to my childhood when sitting outside and doing nothing in between running and jumping was NORMAL.
    How is it that we lose that kind of balance? How can we listen to ourselves and the world if we don’t make a deliberate practice of being still?
    My daughter’s internship ended yesterday, but I’ve promised myself that once a week I will seek out a place where I can practice quiet, can experience solitude.

    • Love what you’ve said here, Laura.
      It’s so true that when we stop and quiet ourselves, the rest of the world comes into focus.
      And that’s so important for a writer.
      We need those images and details to inspire us and give us things to pull into our stories.
      So glad you’re going to continue giving yourself the gift of some time to just be.
      🙂

  6. Pingback: Be still « moreStories. moreSmiles. moreSharing.

  7. Jamie,

    So true.

    Another way to think about it is that we should just write. When I lose all sense of duality- me and the computer, me and words- and I am just writing, that’s what it’s all about for me. That feeling. Even when I am unhappy with the work, being in that place feels just right.

    Another great post.

    Thanks.

    Tom

    • There is something to just getting lost in whatever you’re doing, right, Tom?
      Whether you’re being quiet, walking, meditating, or writing – there’s a power in just surrendering to that one thing for the moment.
      Perhaps as much as silence, we’ve just lot the ability to focus.

  8. Agreed with everyone who said this is a great post. In fact, in my (hopefully soon-to-be-published) novel, one of the main characters has a three-part message for what he thinks would help the world if everyone did: unplug, connect and listen. In sum, basically this means leave behind the electronic and everyday chatter, go out into Nature somewhere and find a private spot, connect to it by opening all of your senses and then listen. Personally, I believe we “hear” both our inner wisdom and the wisdom of the world around us when we do this (and I’m not entirely convinced they are not the same thing). No, this is NOT an original idea, but it’s a message that bears repeating, so I really was happy to read your post!

    -Bryan

    • Hello, Bryan. Thanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts.

      First – congrats on your book and on being published (soon!). 🙂
      Second – I agree that there is one wisdom and that the easiest way to access it is to spend time out in Nature. Each time I take a walk and take the time to really look around me, listen, and breathe deeply, I “see” the answers to my questions all around me. Nature is full of metaphors that can provide clarity on any challenge you might be facing. When we open ourselves up and become aware of the “language” of Nature, we suddenly see the answers.
      Good luck with the book!

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