Can Silence Make You a Better Writer?

Decades ago, when I was barely out of diapers, I started taking annual (sometimes twice-yearly) prayer retreats at the Abbey of Gethsemani in the hills of central Kentucky. It’s a silent Trappist monastery, and it’s been a boon to my prayer life. A lifeline, sometimes.

It’s also been a boon to my writing life. Once I’ve checked in and been immersed in and surrounded by silence (interrupted only by the seven-times-daily prayer services) for the first twenty-four hours or so, my mind seems to come alive (hold the jokes, please). My creativity spikes. My journal pages begin to fill with thoughts, ideas, questions, answers, doodles, drawings, and more. That journal, in fact, is a fascinating study: Whereas in the course of a usual week I might journal a few pages, my four-day or five-day silent retreats at the abbey routinely result in dozens of pages. While I eschew “work” during my prayer retreat, the combination of silence and solitude tend to ignite internal conversations with God, which in turn, I think, produce a level of creativity and originality that generally escapes me the rest of the year.

To choose just one example, halfway through a 2013 or 2014 prayer retreat, I wrote a question in my journal. Years before, I had fashioned a one-year flip calendar for my own use, pairing a verse from the King James Version of the Bible and a quote from Shakespeare each day, since both of those treasures of English literature were produced in the same period, same country, and same city, by people who knew each other. Also years earlier, I had tried to sell this brilliant (if I do say so myself, and I just did) creation as a gift product, without success. So, on this particular retreat, after a few days of solitude and silence, I wrote in my journal: “Why haven’t I ever considered pitching my Bible-and-Shakespeare calendar as a devotional?” Soon after returning home from my retreat, I emailed my agent (see: Laube, Steve) and before long, had offers from multiple publishers. See how easy that was? [Agent Steve made me put this link to the first pages of the finished book so you can take a look. He is so pushy sometimes.]

Now, maybe that particular idea would’ve occurred to me even if I hadn’t been prayerful and silent for a few days. But such flashes of insight happen so often, so abundantly, in the silence of a prayer retreat that I think probably not.

In my experience, silence creates space for thought. For reflection. For creativity. For God. And, though God sometimes does speak into (or in spite of) our busy and noisy lives, He seems to speak more—and more clearly—in the silence.

So, can silence make you a better writer? Can it create space in your life, in your days, for thought? For reflection? For creativity? For God?

Why not find out?

28 Responses to Can Silence Make You a Better Writer?

  1. Avatar
    Crystal Caudill September 2, 2020 at 5:13 am #

    I couldn’t help but jump in because I know exactly what place you are talking about. 🙂 It’s on my bucket list to make it to that retreat one day, but you’ll inspired me to try to carve out a weekend by myself (even if it just in our RV in the driveway) for my own prayer retreat. Silence is such a precious gift in this noisy world.

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    Melissa Henderson September 2, 2020 at 5:15 am #

    Silence helps me listen for nudges from God. When my surroundings are too loud, His message can get drowned out at times. Yes, silence can make me a better writer. 🙂 Sometimes I need the noise and sometimes I need the silence.

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    Jeannie Delahunt September 2, 2020 at 5:33 am #

    “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10, KJV.

    Serenity, the quietness of the soul and spirit gives the Holy Spirit a chance to break through to us when the noises of the world block him out. How could this not nurture creativity?

  4. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 2, 2020 at 5:41 am #

    I yearn for crickets, frogs,
    sometimes, but I would miss my life,
    cacanopohous barking of my dogs,
    and I might even miss my wife
    who hums about her daily tasks
    and laughs with bright clear-bell tone
    and so, dear God, I humbly ask
    that I will never be alone,
    for you have made me for the swirl
    of life, Your own kaleidoscope
    of love, connexion to the world
    and thus lifeline to my hope
    that as these days pass in pain
    I’m allowed, for now, here to remain.

  5. Avatar
    Teresa September 2, 2020 at 5:57 am #

    I am writing about finding silence in a noisy world. These comments are a signpost to keep moving forward with this project. Thank you!

  6. Avatar
    Dineen September 2, 2020 at 6:04 am #

    Such a good post! Love this. And your book is beautiful. Thank you for sharing this. ?❤️

  7. Avatar
    Marilyn Parker September 2, 2020 at 6:13 am #

    Silence is such a rare commodity in our lives. As if there wasn’t enough noise in our shared space, we pump it directly into our ears. I love to listen to the silence! “Be still and know that I am God.” Thank you!

  8. Avatar
    Linsey September 2, 2020 at 6:19 am #

    This really encouraged my heart today- just what I needed to hear. Thank you!

  9. Avatar
    Diane September 2, 2020 at 6:23 am #

    I love your post Steve. Silence can be extremely helpful to ones’ creativity as you have already shown. Thanks for challenging me with your words.

  10. Avatar
    Lewis H. Seaton III September 2, 2020 at 7:20 am #

    Absolutely. I do best with a quiet time when I can be guaranteed I won’t be interrupted. I shared a poem I wrote about it in the comments on a previous post of yours. I won’t re-post it here, but this is the link. https://stevelaube2.wpengine.com/a-writers-evening-prayer/

  11. Avatar
    Kay DiBianca September 2, 2020 at 7:29 am #

    Paying an annual visit to a silent Trappist monastery sounds like (no pun intended) the perfect way to listen to a voice higher than our own.

    Although I haven’t had that experience, I find the weekly observance of Sabbath to be a time of rest and regrouping. In his great book “The Sabbath,” Abraham Heschel calls the sabbath “a sanctuary in time.” It is a welcome retreat from our noisy, 24/7 world.

  12. Avatar
    Shirlee Abbott September 2, 2020 at 7:53 am #

    I’ve set aside prayer time in the past, but I didn’t picture it as God, me and my journal. Experience tells me my pen-and-journal connection with God is much deeper than my keyboard-and-computer connection. Thank you, Bob, for this inspired suggestion!

  13. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver September 2, 2020 at 8:15 am #

    Bob,

    Mr. Steve, the-great-one-who-knows-all, was wise in having you include the first pages of your book. I thought it was going to be dry and boring, but instead found it delightful. In fact, I plan to buy it. I prefer the KJV of the Bible because it’s what I first read and God used it to read me, so to speak.

    Thanks for this post!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 2, 2020 at 9:16 pm #

      Wonderful, Roberta! ONE COPY SOLD! I’m on my way.

  14. Avatar
    Norma Brumbaugh September 2, 2020 at 8:24 am #

    The silences bring out the beauty of thought and being. Times alone with God in the silence rejuvenate while they minister to the soul. Any set aside time where one blocks out extraneous noise will work, but places like nature and monasteries provide a little something extra. In 2014 I made a personal prayer retreat to Abbey of New Clairvaux, a daughter plant of Abbey of Gethsemani (est. 1955). While there I had the pleasure of talking with Father Jerome, a hermit monk, who was one of the original group to head out west. We talked about Thomas Merton, he knew him personally, and about what unites rather than divides Catholics and Protestants. So rich. Such a gracious man. That was the highlight of a year’s worth of weekly visits to the monastery where I went to listen in the silences, think, write, pray and learn. Silent Sacred Space is the name I’ve given this practice that’s made such a huge difference in my life.. Love your topic this week. Thank you. Beautiful. Encouraging. True.

  15. Avatar
    Megan Schaulis September 2, 2020 at 8:25 am #

    I want to send that devotional back in time to my high school self, obsessed with all things Shakespeare as she was. I may send a copy to my favorite English teacher, no joke.
    On the note of silence, I just took a moment to listen to the ambient sounds of my office: husband’s mouse clicking as he mutters quietly, laptop fan whirring, my own typing, and my toddler playing piano nearby. This is my “silence.” 😉

  16. Avatar
    Fran Rpgers September 2, 2020 at 8:42 am #

    Thank you for this Bob. Since my husband’s death three months ago, after being his caregiver for thirteen years, I have been in silence. The Lord is beginning to speak clearer and more profoundly than ever. It was not my choice but I will treasure it from here on until I come to the same rest as his.
    I recently sent you an email to ask for suggestions. Did you get the message?

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 2, 2020 at 9:16 pm #

      Fran, yes, I did receive it–and replied on 8.27. Check your junk folder (though why MY emails would go into anyone’s junk folder, I have no idea).

  17. Avatar
    Rose September 2, 2020 at 8:57 am #

    This article resonates for me on two levels.

    First, the first article I ever wrote for a Christian website (Story Embers) was about how silence and boredom Can make a person a better writer. It’s refreshing and encouraging to see similar thoughts from you.

    Second, I fear the technology boom of the last fifteen years has made silence not only rare, but almost impossible to find. What will this do to us, to our souls, to our creativity?

    Thank you for this thought.

    PS. I’m native Kentuckian and I’m glad you found Gethsemani.

  18. Avatar
    OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU September 2, 2020 at 9:51 am #

    That devotional was simply awesome!! Well done Bob!! Truly great.
    Thanks so much for this post. I have experienced the beauty and magic that silence invokes on inspiration and creativity in my writing. When I work in the silence of my home:when everyone has gone to bed or before anyone is up in the morning, God communicates ideas to me through looking out of the window or hearing sounds around me.Most times, I am amazed at how much better I garnish a chapter when rereading it. Other times, a new born chapter is added to the family!
    The question is -for those who can not get away or for those who live in homes that do not create silence, what can they do?
    Definitely, from my experience, silence makes one a better writer.
    God bless you Bob. Good to see you coming out more often on the platform!

  19. Avatar
    OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU September 2, 2020 at 10:01 am #

    Hi Andrew!
    Hope you are doing great. Thanks for the poem. I always enjoy the wordings of your poems. You will never be alone and you will be without pain in the name of Jesus. Remain blessed with Jeremiah 17:14 by the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

  20. Avatar
    Janet September 2, 2020 at 10:05 am #

    I agree. For me writing is solitary, I write best in quiet. The editing and polishing works best With others with whom I can bounce off thoughts, actions and word choices.

  21. Avatar
    frankcaudle76@gmail.com September 2, 2020 at 10:08 am #

    Encouraging.
    Question!
    Can an individual who has not cleared your hurdles get their one liners in a flip calendar. I post an original one everyday on my Facebook page. I have 2,500 more. II thought trying to get them printed.
    I completed two devotional books. Now approaching 1,500 readers on my Facebook page so you will talk to me.
    Now concentrating on my platform.
    I’ve tried to reach Lifeway thru a denominational friend . No success. Any suggestions on any of the above?

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler September 2, 2020 at 9:15 pm #

      Frank, hurdles? What hurdles? I ain’t got no hurdles. And there’s no magic number of Facebook friends to get me to talk to you. Shoot, ain’t I talking right now? I think I am. As for your questions, as my experience might attest, selling a flip calendar is tough; many are created in-house by the publisher. As for reaching any publishing house these days, there are many like you who want to make contact, but editors are swamped with such outreaches, which is why they mostly rely on agents. So that may suggest an area of focus for you.

  22. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks September 2, 2020 at 10:32 am #

    That is so true, Bob! It amazes me as again and again God steps into our world and makes Himself known. Whether an unexpected monetary gift that ended up being the amount needed for a new stove and new fridge (appliances that we had no idea were about to break simultaneously) wisdom about ministry and relationships, or that character motivation that had been eluding me … until I prayed about it! He is so gracious with us. Yes, a silent walk in the forest around the camp where we live and quiet communion with Him have brought both peace in times of trouble, a firm resolve for difficult tasks, and a jump-start of creativity.Time and again I have seen it happen. So amazing!

  23. Avatar
    Kathryn September 2, 2020 at 6:40 pm #

    Hi Bob, thank you for sharing this.
    I have gone from in recent years being part of a family of seven to now being mostly on my own. I’ve struggled with being on my own this year, but at the same time have understood it’s to be a year of retreating and writing.
    Your blog has encouraged me to make the most of the rest of this year on my own – being blessed by the opportunity for silence. It also reminds me how important it will be to prioritise mini prayer and writing retreats for myself in the future.
    All the best with your devotional. 🙂

  24. Avatar
    Eva September 3, 2020 at 2:42 am #

    Beautiful !

  25. Avatar
    Tim Shoemaker September 3, 2020 at 7:01 am #

    Great post, Bob!

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