Embracing the Silence

Encouragement Week continues. I’m featuring posts from years past, each offering a little inspiration for your writing journey. I’m away from the blog to observe Holy Week, but I’ll be back next week with all-new posts. I hope you enjoy this series.

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“The best time for planning a book is when you’re doing the dishes.” -Agatha Christie

Lately I’ve been having conversations with a friend about the importance of the menial, everyday tasks in our lives, and how they provide wonderful opportunities to let our minds loose to roam, explore, and process.

We live in such a noisy world. Whenever we’re driving or folding laundry or jogging, it’s tempting to always have our iPods or cell phones in our ears, or the TV or radio on in the background. How desperately we avoid having few moments of silence!

But I am more and more aware of the importance of allowing our minds to be free once in awhile. We can create silence—when our hands are busy—so that we can hear our own thoughts, so that ideas can form, so that our subconscious can help us solve problems, so that we can hear the voice of God. I believe that when we constantly have “input” into our brains in the form of music or voices, we rob ourselves of the crucial processing time our minds need in order to be creative and access all of our intelligence.

I’m not talking about dedicated prayer or meditation time, which is important in its own right. I’m talking about doing the dishes, walking the dog. Cleaning out the car or driving to work. Times when our hands and bodies are busy doing something that doesn’t require our entire brain’s worth of concentration. We can choose to start seeing these times as valuable “free time” for our minds. We can enter them with no agenda except to have no agenda. We can get used to the solitude and eventually come to appreciate the riches that can be found in the quiet.

One of my favorite books is The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris. In it, she encourages us to treasure rare moments of solitude and silence and to avoid distracting ourselves with television and the like. The menial tasks of life, she says, can be “islands of holiness” in an otherwise chaotic and noisy life. This has been hard for me to get used to. I’m constantly downloading podcasts from iTunes and listening while I fold laundry or dust the furniture. I listen to music when I go running or workout at the gym. But I’m trying to open up some of these times to the silence.

If you are a writer, then these times are incredibly important for you. Your brain needs open space to create, to solve plot and character problems, to clarify your position on an issue you’re exploring in your writing, to come up with just the right word for that problematic sentence you’ve struggled with.

I challenge you today to start looking at your daily “quotidian” tasks in a new light. Not as something to dread or simply get through, not as a time to catch up on the TV news, but as a gift from God, a time to allow the silence and discover its treasures.

What will you find there?

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • Amie McCracken

    >That is why I don't own a tv. When I had one I would spend whole afternoons vegging in front of it. Watching shows that meant nothing. It's really turned my apartment into a quieter more serene place, and now I have the chance to think and create more.

  • arlee bird

    >Yeah, I don't see how people can formulate plots and write with a lot of distractions. Then again, I used to do my homework like that when I was young — I don't know if it was detrimental or not– my grades were always pretty good.

    By the way:
    I’d like to invite you and your readers to join us in a blogging challenge for the month of April. Check it out at Blogging From A to Z

    Lee

  • BiMbyLaDs**

    >confirms what I was saying to my hubby about having a TV fast.

  • Katie Ganshert

    >Love it! I posted yesterday on something very similar – about busyness and how it gets in the way of us hearing God's voice.

    I've not read this post of yours yet. Perfect timing.

    Thanks, Rachelle!

  • SG Redling

    >This is a great post. I work in radio so I spend the first nine hours of my day being inundated by no less than four audio feeds at a time. It takes me hours of concentrated effort to quiet my head down enough to write. Some people might have solved this by getting rid of their TVs/radios. I got rid of my boyfried. :-D

    Thanks for the post!

  • Glynis

    >I live in the peace and quiet of a Cypriot village. I write to the tune of a cock crow, a tractoria chugging by and a canary singing on my porch.
    Bliss.

    Enjoy your Easter period. In Cyprus this is a bigger festival than Christmas.

  • Kathleen MacIver

    >This is so amazing! I've blogged (on my inspirational blog, not my author blog) a couple of times recently about this very thing, for this is what God is in the midst of teaching me.

    Thank you, Rachelle.

  • Jessica Nelson

    >Oh my goodness! I totally agree with this and AC's quote. I'm a big chore person and it's SO true that when I'm loading the dishwasher, vacuuming, dusting, my creative mind is churning away. It's actually pretty relaxing. Maybe that's why I like chores? I don't know…
    Good post!

  • MJR

    >People these days are constantly plugged into something. When do they get a chance to daydream? I daydream/work out plot problems during slow periods at work, where I don't have many distractions.

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >I find when I have writers block that doing something else creative, for me that is sewing helps. Or reading. Or yes, washing the dishes.

    Thanks for another encouraging blog.

  • Shawn Smucker

    >My wife persuaded me to give up tv for the year, and it's been one of the best decisions we've ever made. I read much more and find myself involved in loads more meaningful activities (playing more with the kids, games at night, or -gasp!- sitting quietly. I also started a blog with the spare time it gave me, and included some thoughts on living without television.

  • Steph Damore

    >I love silence. Whenever I can shut off the rest of the world, I do.

  • sharonbially

    >Silence is golden. Only in silence can I imagine, or solve problems in my mind. I never watch TV, and rarely listen to music or the radio. Even my kids (usually) respect my mantra: "SSHHHH." Sometimes I think that all the noise surrounding us today just homegenizes us, turning individuals into mere consumers rather than original thinkers. The noise itself is a consumer good, too.

  • Anonymous

    >I get my best plot work done while in the shower. This is the most private time of the whole day for me – a special time that I also use for extra prayer and praise.

    Something happens with the water splashing my face. I see the plot run like a movie in my head and then play with the dialogue, almost acting it out (a thoughtful hand gesture, or a sassy eye roll, etc.), while I'm speaking the conversation in my mind.

    I actually get a lot done before the water starts to run cold. This place seems to work best if I'm having a block of somesort.

  • Debbie Maxwell Allen

    >My best writing time comes when I'm falling asleep or just waking up. I think about my current scene, and "play the video" in my mind.

    It's amazing how little details fill themselves in–sounds, expressions, thoughts and dialogue that would not have come to me otherwise.

    I've (nearly) perfected the art of writing in the pitch dark, sometimes pages at a time. The only trouble I have is when I inadvertently begin writing on a page I've already written on!

    I love to plan scenes while I cook, too. That's why I called my blog "Writing While the Rice Boils".

  • Stephanie L. McGee

    >Great post. I find my best and most unexpected inspirations come when I'm getting ready in the morning. I definitely need to create more quiet spaces, but it's a start.

  • Beth

    >So true. My children often think that if I enter a room I was put there specifically to become their audience. While I treasure the fact that they tell me virtually everything and we have a very close relationship, I finally had to explain that while I was doing small jobs such as washing dishes, I was often using this as a creative daydreaming time I used to explore writing possibilities, and that I couldn't do that with someone talking to me.

    Still, the best time I have for this is early in the morning when I'm doing hair, etc., when everyone else is still asleep or going about their own tasks.

    Also concur with not having a TV. It is a golden gift to be alone with one's thoughts.

  • T. Anne

    >Love that quote from Agatha Christie. We have that in common.

    I'm headed to the dentist. That's usually where I catch up on People magazine, but perhaps I will try and work out some plot twists instead. Nice post Rachelle.

  • Sarah Cypher

    >"Long-legged Fly"
    W. B. Yeats

    That civilisation may not sink,
    Its great battle lost,
    Quiet the dog, tether the pony
    To a distant post;
    Our master Caesar is in the tent
    Where the maps are spread,
    His eyes fixed upon nothing,
    A hand upon his head.
    Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
    His mind moves upon silence.

    That the topless towers be burnt
    And men recall that face,
    Move most gently if move you must
    In this lonely place.
    She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,
    That nobody looks; her feet
    Practise a tinker shuffle
    Picked up on a street.
    Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
    Her mind moves upon silence.

    That girls at puberty may find
    The first Adam in their thought,
    Shut the door of the Pope's chapel,
    Keep those children out.
    There on that scaffolding resides
    Michael Angelo.
    With no more sound than the mice make
    His hand moves to and fro.
    Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
    His mind moves upon silence.

  • Catherine

    >What a wonderful post! And I love the quote by Agatha Christie. How so very true.

    We once lived in the Texas Hill Country. There was this large window right over the kitchen sink, and when I would wash the dishes the breeze would come in so nice and easy. In those moments, when the air would touch my face, I felt closer to God. In those moments, I felt such joy. I've never felt that way in any other place we've lived – not quite. I think we were meant to live there, to sort of regroup and have some quite time.

    As for writing – my husband tends to drive when we've anywhere to go. And for some reason, the moment the car starts the thoughts and ideas flow. I always keep my writing notebook with me in the car.

    Goodness, I love your post!

    Catherine

  • Dana Bryant

    >You always seem right on time, Rachelle. In fact, as much as I adore your post, I have taken a break from the computer at all, unless it directly applies to my work.

    I am sincerely considering a very long TV fast. My children need it and I need it.

    I noticed that I am "in the moment" so much more lately. I feel grounded and my life seems so much more meaningful when I don't have a radio blasting in my ear (Christian music or not) or the TV blaring or searching the web. Even my editing on the computer at night was getting to me.

    I am taking a break from the pressures of life. My book is not going anywhere, as you yourself have told me. I need to spend more than five minutes a day hearing from God. Oh, I spend plenty of time "talking" to Him but listening, well hardly.

    Funny how I decided to take a moment and check into your blog, only to confirm my mental break is still needed.

  • Mira

    >Wonderful post, Rachelle! Thank you – I completely agree. We need time not only to feed our minds, but time to let them work through what we've fed them!

    I'd go even further – for me anyway – I need not only quiet, but alone time.

    Thanks for the encouragement! I hope you're having a wonderful week.

  • Care

    >I look forward to your posts Rachelle.

    Hanging on the wall by the side of my bed I have framed piece of art that reads:

    "Make time for the quiet moments as God whispers and the world is loud."

    How very true for me in my present journey of renewal and hope.

    "He has Risen"

  • Jason

    >Great post. I can't imagine how a writer or Christian can get by without some serious time for reflection.

    Very timely for me to hear too…thanks!

  • Marla Taviano

    >My dishwasher has been broken since July 2008. The ONLY thing I like about hand washing dishes is the very thing you're talking about.

  • Botanist

    >Great advice! My most reliable "quiet time for the mind" is when I'm cycling to and from work. Not every day, but most days in the summer, an hour each way on quiet trails so not much distraction. And iPod definitely not wanted!

  • Rick Barry

    >Much truth here. I like to let my mind wander into new plot twists while running, mowing, or just driving down the highway. Those who always feel the constant need to fill their brains with other people's thoughts via radio, TV, ipods, and yes–even cell phones–are missing out.

  • Carol Fleserieu-Miller

    >I cherish quiet solitude:)

  • Marly

    >Great points here! I agree. It is easy to keep taking in and taking in. There is so much out there. I used to always walk with my ipod and listen to different podcasts or music, but lately I've been trying to let myself think. I find I like my own company when I give myself a chance!

  • ParisBreakfasts

    >I completely agree.
    Walking to the pool is my most creative-thinking time.
    Next comes in the pool…
    If I don't go to the pool I miss out on the most creative time of my day.
    Jonah Lehrer has an article on just this phenomenon -Intelligence and the idle mind.

  • Henya

    >We need a little jolt of truth every so often. In silence, we speak out thoughts… something that is difficult to do in manhattan. So I try and grab it anywhere I can.

  • Anne Lang Bundy

    >This is one of the reasons I have so much difficulty with information on audio media (other than music). I just need quiet sometimes!

    Your words are wise, though I suspect they may not be particularly popular.

  • Contemporary Troubadour

    >I do my best thinking when I'm working on dishes, laundry, grooming the cats — if only I could somehow beam all that thought directly into some organized form (or at least in transcription?) to a file on my computer to sort through later!

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