In our society today, we underrate silence. We prefer noise, sound, often music, but anything so that we won’t have to endure silence. The absence of sound.
I’ve recently come face to face with my need for silence. A neighbor has bombarded me with sound at night that has kept me from sleeping well. She responded to my request to turn down the volume by turning up the volume, which has led to lodging noise complaints against her. I need silence to sleep. Do any of my readers not need silence to sleep?
When I first began writing fiction in a serious way, I wrote with classical music on in the background. It sparked all sorts of ideas in my imagination, but didn’t help the actual writing. At one point, I would listen to classical music during my morning walks while going over notes from my writing on the current fiction project. I found this to be especially productive with generating ideas for scenes, character development, and dialogue. Music opens the doors and windows of my imagination with an invitation to come out and play.
But I need silence in order to write now. It is as if the words generate their own sound, each word its own vibration, within my mind. I need to hear it, to listen. It feels as if my imagination observes the writing process as if watching a play or movie, reviewing my work later in dreams or when I’m going over my notes. The silence allows me to think. The silence creates the space for the words to occupy and resonate. The shy words don’t want to appear when there’s noise or music or something else occupying that space. They want their own silent space.
I also now read in silence. Except on my commute to and from work when I’m on a bus or train car full of people. Sometimes those people concentrate on their smartphones and are silent. Most often, someone who doesn’t have earphones will play a video or music on the smartphone loud, irritating me and others. Sometimes, someone uses the smartphone to actually have a phone call — one day a couple weeks ago, I (and everyone else in the bus) were forced to listen to a woman doing a career coaching phone call in what I’m sure she believed was a normal voice but was in fact quite loud. It’s a wonder how much of a person’s business becomes public because of cell phones, but it’s apparently more important to make the calls than keep the business private. Or do these people think no one can hear them or are paying attention?
Who has the ability to block out the human voice or a video or hip-hop music? I don’t, especially when loud and in a confined space like a city bus or train car. I do love quiet commutes when the other commuters are silently engrossed in their smartphones and I can read. But there are always other sounds in the background — traffic, the sound of the bus engine or the train wheels on the track, announcements of the next stop, or PAs about not smoking on the train. I have more success blocking out those sounds, sometimes to the extent that I’ve missed my stop because I was engrossed in my book.
Silence. Underappreciated. I crave it. I need it for my writing.
What about you?