We all have mornings like the one I had today: making breakfast, using the cattle prod to get kids off to school, kitchen cleanup, laundry, email, texting, phone call to the car mechanic, phone call to the insurance company—and all BEFORE we go to work. Is it any wonder we have trouble turning off the noise in our heads long enough to feel creative?
Thanks to our handy phones, which can do everything but drive our cars, it’s getting harder to hear our own thoughts, and becoming nearly impossible for us to feel creative. If we’re not keeping up with our virtual lives as well as our actual physical ones, we feel like failures. Yet, the more we scramble to keep up, the worse that ugly static sounds in our minds, obscuring our thoughts and making it impossible to tap deep enough into our souls to produce new work.
Luckily, this past weekend I stumbled across an amazing essay in the May/June 2013 issue of Poets and Writers magazine. That piece, “The Calm Before the Calm: Silence and the Creative Writer” by Daphne Kalotay, hit home for me because she wrote it while waiting for her new novel, Sight Reading, to be published by HarperCollins. I’d been biting my nails prior to the publication of The Wishing Hill by NAL/Penguin, valiantly seeking refuge where I usually do: in writing something new.
But I was having a problem: I couldn’t concentrate. It wasn’t just because of the usual writer’s crisis-in-confidence, but because it’s the end of the school year and, as any working parent knows, June is a nightmare of activities, events, final exams and graduation parties which all drop you headlong into summer, where your free time is sliced, chopped and grated tiny bits. I’m also supposed to be promoting my book.
How could I possibly think, never mind write? I couldn’t! But then I read Daphne’s final paragraphs, where she talks about silence being important because “silence is where we go to write,” and found the inspiration I needed in the last paragraph:
“Silence is where you were when you first lifted your pen and listened for the words in your head. Silence is where you are sovereign, where you write what you are drawn to write, not what you are told to write. It is where the muscle-work of creation takes place. And, in this age of nonstop tweets and text messages and headlines flashing across screens, silence—that space free of anyone else’s words—is more elusive and precious than ever.”
As we try to survive the relentless meteor storms of information hurtling toward us—storms that we, as writers and artists, are fully expected to contribute to by promoting ourselves and our work—Daphne’s words should serve as a call to action, reminding us to seize time for our creative selves in the midst of the madness.
The same day I read that essay, I turned off my phone and shut down the computer. Then I went outside to sit on the porch and write longhand in my journal, trying to recreate my last writing retreat. I only had half an hour to myself, but it was enough for me to feel like a writer again.
I can’t do anything about being a working mom scrabbling for free time in June. But, when I do have free time, I can vow to make better use of it and do what I love most: follow the story.
You can do the same. Find just half an hour, or even ten minutes, and turn off the noise in your head. Pay attention to what’s around you. Breathe.