“We writers must learn how to become still in our heads, to achieve the sort of stillness that allows our senses to become heightened. The wonderful nonfiction writer Joyce Dyers refers to this as seeing like an animal.”
“There is no way to learn how to do this except by simply doing it. We must use every moment we can to think about the piece of writing at hand, to see the world through the point of view of our characters, to learn everything we can that serves the writing. We must notice details around us, while also blocking diversions and keeping our thought processes focused on our current poem, essay or book.”
When my fabulous sister Stephanie sent me a New York Times essay called “The Art of Being Still” by Silas House, a novelist and teacher, I sat right down and consumed it. What marvelous advice. How challenging to put it into action!
According to Silas, most of the aspiring writers he meets “spend very little time alone, thinking, much less hunkering down somewhere and actually putting words on the page.”
Why? Is it because they have jobs or families or responsibilities — or all three? Or because they don’t have time to sit “pondering life’s mysteries and miracles? While these factors may be at work, they’re not the main reason, says Silas. Instead, he believes it’s because too many writers fear stillness — the kind of stillness that allows us to remain absorbed in our writing even as we go through our day — shopping or walking the dog or cooking.
When Silas rides his bike to the campus where he teaches, for example, while part of his mind remains alert to the traffic around him, he’s also seeing the world through the eyes of the main character in the novel he’s working on, who also cycles to and from work. Says Silas: “I see the world through his eyes. I imagine what he is thinking. I use that brief time to become him.”
Everything, even something as mundane as grocery shopping can be transformed into a writing exercise, asserts Silas; a woman shopper, for example, might provide a quirk for one of his characters. Immersion: I think that’s what Silas is counseling. Sounds promising! Write on.