“To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” Lao Tzu
“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think. Lorraine Hansberry
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and
listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no
choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka
What wise advice and how hard it is to follow! First, there are all the distractions that pull us away from our desk and our work. Second, there is that love of momentum and striving for forward motion that often impels us to keep writing instead of simply stopping and listening. Third, there is the busy mind, the mind that simply won’t still itself. And finally, there is the fear factor: the uneasy feeling that if we just sit awhile, we’ll come face to face with our inadequacies and see all the flaws in our work. And so, instead of periodically just sitting a while and thinking, we keep moving, doing, pushing forward.
And yet, sometimes writing dangerously requires us to take that leap into the unknown — to be still and to listen. This happened to me recently. I arrived at a key section of my children’s novel during my revision process and knew it needed lots of work. The segment was action-packed: there was so much going on that the emotional undertow was lost. My young heroine was too busy doing and encountering obstacles to take time to feel.
I knew I needed to streamline the action, but I also needed to intensify the emotion. I wasn’t sure what to cut and what to keep. So instead of just chopping away, I took a day and just sat still and listened. I wrote a few notes, but that was it. I just listened and let my mind still itself.
Slowly, the pieces of the existing section began shifting around in my head. I began to see a new structure emerging — a different sequence of events that would be simpler and more compelling. I decided to jettison a scene that I had fun writing and was very visual, but actually distracted the reader from the real purpose of that section. I also decided to move another scene that’s important to my story: It’s now going to be at the end of the novel. All in all, I think these changes will make my story simpler and stronger.
Talking to my sister Stephanie that evening, I found myself saying, “Well, I didn’t really do much today.” She wisely replied, “Don’t beat yourself up, Karin, because you feel you haven’t been productive.” What a smart cookie, Steph is! I’d fallen into the old trap of thinking I hadn’t accomplished enough, when I was doing exactly what I needed to: let my story shift and settle.
So let’s remember that sometimes writing dangerously means sitting quietly. Write on!