Writing Quiet

It’s been pretty well-discussed that waiting for the muse to hit you is not the best way to be a productive writer. When we create the time and space to write, writing happens. But I’ve found that just blocking off a two-hour window on my calendar isn’t necessarily the same thing.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to have my most interesting, reflective, and exciting flashes of creative thought when I’m in solitude. In my car driving to work in the morning, in the shower on a Saturday morning, taking a walk through the woods. Solitude and quiet–true quiet–forces our awareness of ourselves to the surface. We fully realize what’s inside, what’s outside, and how our inner and outer worlds come together when we are alone. It’s a frightening and inspiring experience, to feel truly alone, and to hear nothing but the sound of nature, or of water running down the shower drain, or of tires rolling across pavement. It makes us aware of ourselves even as it takes us out of ourselves.

When I don’t carve out space and time in my schedule to truly feel alone, in solitude and quiet, I feel less creative. I lose the inclination to write, and in so doing, I lose my deepest understanding of myself. I begin to lose touch with the things that make me feel like me.

I’m inclined to say I’m not entirely alone in this feeling; in his post on “The No. 1 Habit of Highly Creative People,” Leo Babauta collected some quotes on the virtues of solitude from creative people. Take Einstein, for example:

“On the other hand, although I have a regular work schedule, I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.”

This particular quote reminded me of my first week of college–my first time living in the same room with someone who wasn’t family. A few days after moving into the dorm, it was a particularly hot, sticky afternoon. I turned on the oscillating fan, flung myself on my bed, and proceeded to stare up at the ceiling–an action I didn’t think twice about. After a few minutes, my roommate was perplexed.

“What are you doing?” she asked. When I responded that I wasn’t doing anything, she scoffed.

“How can you just do nothing?”

Easily, I thought. But her words made me feel guilty, unproductive, and dull–like I should always be doing something, even if that something is just listening to music or painting my nails. Doing nothing was unacceptable.

I carried that little incident with me for a long time, because my roommate’s response to “doing nothing” had been such a strongly negative one. I had never before seen anything wrong with sitting in silence, and coming across someone who found it strange was jarring to my worldview.

Working at a Quaker college, even though I myself am not Quaker, has deepened my appreciation of silence and solitude. Worship, for traditional Quakers, involves a great deal of silence–silence which is only broken when someone in the congregation feels called to speak. I can’t begin to explain how deeply I identify with that practice–taking the time to truly listen to our inner selves, to the Spirit that’s within each of us. For me, it’s a necessity, but a hard one to come by sometimes in our constantly connected, clamoring world.

What about you? When and where do you find creativity in your life, and how do you connect with it?

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