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?

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