~ Simon & Garfunkel
A growing trend in many of the writing blogs I follow seems to be toward compiling soundtracks to write by. I can imagine only a few things more detrimental to my writing than being surrounded by music. For me, silence is truly golden.
It wasn’t always this way. When my kids were young, I could lose myself in a book while they romped and the television blared. Now I’m so easily distracted almost any noise is a frustration. I’d love to join the throngs at the local coffee shops, laptops nestled next to the crumpets and hot beverages, immersed in the act of putting words on the page. But I could spend hours in such surroundings with only a paragraph or two to show for my efforts; it’s too much fun to people-watch and eavesdrop (what? don’t tell me you don’t do listen in – how else do you get story ideas or write great dialogue?)
I’m still reading Gail Sher’s One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers – it’s my bedtime companion, giving me words of contemplation to still the bustle of the day. In one of her brief chapters, she addresses the notion of silence by quoting author Bill McKibben’s forward to an annotated Walden: “Without silence, solitude, darkness, how can we come to any sense of our true size, our actual relationship with the rest of the world?” Sher details a Chinese poet Wang Wei who identified three levels of silence: physical, spiritual, and the silence of mystical meditation. “When thought stops, words halt, and we move through light toward absolute stillness,” Willis and Tony Barnstone wrote when introducing Wei’s poetry. Sher finishes her essay on silence with, “Stillness shrinks us to our own size, empowers us to acknowledge our pain, lends us the air into which this pain can, momentarily, evaporate.”
“Absolute stillness.” “Mystical mediation.” Those are the places from which my best writing springs, evaporating from the depths of my mind only to solidify onto the page. I can’t find the words if my brain is flooded with noise, no matter how beautiful the music may be in other circumstances.
A soundtrack for my writing? The soothing sounds of silence, when my thoughts can take center stage, is enough.