Inspiration

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?

Leave a Comment

Memorial Day

Today in the U.S. we honor the veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice and died in the military for our country. It is an important day of remembrance. Some interesting quotes to ponder in light of this day: “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should …

Read More

Instrument (A Writer’s Prayer)

God, from ancient days to modern times, you have chosen human language to communicate with men and women; in fact, you are a writer yourself, having written your commandments in tablets of stone, my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and your Word in my heart. You have also …

Read More

Quotes from Recent Books I’ve Read

Prolific western writer Louis L’Amour wrote in his autobiographical Education of a Wandering Man, “A writer’s brain is like a magician’s hat.  If you’re going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in first.” That’s why reading well and widely is crucial to a writer’s development. You …

Read More

Is It Ready to Submit?

You’ve poured out your soul. You’ve written your heart out. You’ve struggled and sweated over how to say what you want to say. You’ve paced the floor, clicked your heels, and now you think maybe it’s ready to submit. But how do you know? Good question. “Good question” usually means …

Read More

A Writer’s Evening Prayer

A Writer’s Evening Prayer (based on “An Evening Prayer” by C. Maud Battersby) __________   If I have failed to heed your voice today, If I have driven any of your thoughts away, If I have written my own willful way: Dear Lord, forgive!   If I have written idle …

Read More

Still More Carrots and Sticks

Several weeks ago, I posted some of the responses I received from some of my favorite writers (who are also clients) to the question, “Do you motivate yourself to write with a ‘carrot’ (reward) or a ‘stick?’” I was fascinated by the volume and variety of the responses, the last …

Read More

I Almost Quit Writing

Nearly twenty years ago, I was totally spent as a writer. I’d endured a three-year process of revision and revulsion on one book that had me doubting my ability and drained of all enthusiasm for writing. I’d had a good run. I’d authored or coauthored numerous articles and books. I’d …

Read More

Another Writer’s Hymn

Another Writer’s Hymn (based on and drawing from a hymn by William Freeman Lloyd) __________ My times are in your hand; my God, I wish them there; my life, my soul, my words, I leave entirely to your care. My times are in your hand, whatever I may do; to …

Read More