Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Writing and Being Still

A recent piece in the New York Times, "The Art of Being Still," by novelist Silas House caught my eye. Especially his comment, "too many writers today are afraid to be still."

Or they are unable to unwilling to be quiet with their busy lives in which writing time is sandwiched in between parenting, earning money, maintaining a home, etc. House does not mean that writers have to sit still in a lonely garret. He means their minds have to be quiet.

His piece includes much sensible advice, especially for emerging writers who spend a lot of time talking about or planning to write or reading about writing or attending conferences. His advice, like mine, is to do the reading and networking in a limited way to keep your mind open.

How do we become still so that we "achieve the sort of stillness that allows our senses to become heightened"? In writing extensively about silence, I have talked about the need to slow down and find spots of contemplative time.  House is practical in recommending that writers use every moment they have to think about the story or article they are working on. And nothing else.

The issue is not, How many hours a day must I write?  But: How can I use my driving, shopping, chore time to reflect on one thing (my writing) only, without distractions?  He recommends what my wife, Lynn, has always done: writing constantly in her head.  In her periods of silence, she is actively thinking about her characters and what she wants them to say or do.  Little of this is written down in the initial stages.

Writers can go for weeks without putting words onto paper, but, if they follow House and many, many other authors, "they write every waking minute."  They do so by cultivating an inner silence that blocks interference (cell phones, etc. off) and opens the channels of observation.  The quiet mind comes when we turn off our overly busy thought patterns and remain quiet, open to what may come as we focus on living in the present moment.

Silence and writing seem to be opposed; yet silence and stillness are more than the absence of words and activity. They relate to a disciplined habit of listening to and observing what the universe has to reveal. And it can be done amid all the no-mind duties we must daily perform.

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