Thursday, March 12, 2015

Writers and the Search for Silence

Are Writers Afraid of Noise?

I suppose it depends on what kind of noise it is. Some noises aren't that loud and are pretty much harmless to a writer's frame of mind. Others demand your attention and seem like auditory bullets fired at the poor writer clacking away on her laptop keyboard. Some noises are so loud or so low they can kill, I've heard.

I'm a tad skeptical of the quiet business, and the idea that a writer needs it and should seek it out. I wrote earlier that most people live in big cities, and therefore so do most writers, and modern cities are noisy, and if you want to be a writer you need to adjust to the noise and write your best while enduring it. I think my pronouncement stands.

The need for quiet must have arisen from the great early American writers who emerged from New England and lived "north of Boston" and similar hushed locales up there. They were surrounded by quiet (excepting the occasional chirping bird I'm sure), they succeeded, and therefore that's what writers really need.


Running Away From Noise To A Writers Colony

I'm guessing the vast majority of writers are like myself and have never attended a writers colony.

You pay--how much a night? Something like $50--for how long? Something like 3 weeks. Grand Total: 21x50=$1,050). Wait a minute. I just read the fine print. Add on the cleaning fee (daily or one-time?), the wifi fee (hey, wait a minute, you're not supposed to spend your time on the internet), and an application fee.

And the magic just flies off your fingertips and solidifies into words on those formerly blank pages, and you end up with a bestselling Nobel-worthy novel? Is that how it works? It must, I'm seeing colonies described as "magical" by someone who was there.

The whole point of a writers colony seems to be to find "a quiet place to write." The implication being that you can't write anything worth reading, or at least something worthy of a prize, unless you find that peace and quiet advertised at the colony.

Don’t colonies imply a certain type of noise along with them? Birds, tree branches and leaves fluttering in the wind, a bit of rain, maybe even thunder. And what of the creaking house, the other writers trudging up and down the creaking staircase, walking back and forth to their rooms on the creaking wooden hallway floors, the sound of their typing, their coughing, maybe even their breathing? Doesn't that add up to a lot of noise? And you're there for, what was it again, peace and quiet? And you start wondering where is that list of "house rules" so you can complain to management about all that racket? But I'm sure if you took a noise meter with you the decimal count would be much lower at a colony house than in an apartment in Manhattan.

I ask myself, what's holding me back from writing great books--a lack of quiet? A too-noisy environment?



Is the search for silence what draws these writers to the colony? Surely, but it seems preposterous. What's cheaper: a couple weeks at the colony or a pair of earplugs?

And you're paying for what, 3 weeks? You have to get back to your job, don't you? I imagine if you don't have a job, you're in a quiet place already. For many workers, 2 weeks of vacation time is all you have. Seriously? You're writing a novel in 2 weeks. Yeah, some people do, but wouldn't it be more realistic to go away for at least a month? I can see a month, bare minimum. Imagine the cost. Bestselling writers only.

But 2 or 3 weeks suggests it's not about writing a book under what are advertised as "quiet" surroundings. "Quiet," I might add, is a relative term. My definition of the term is likely at odds with many other writers. Some people would say, if a few birds are chirping in the tree outside, that's not quiet.

It would be nice to see some statistics from writers who worked on books at colonies. Were most of them bestsellers or award winners? Did they set the book world on fire with those silence-inspired manuscripts? The quieter the environment, the better the prose, isn't that the way it works?

How many writers who attended colonies wrote books, how many were published, what did they sell, and what was the critical appraisal, and how does that compare with books not written at least partially at these quiet colonies? What, no one has those metrics? I'm shocked.

The colony experience seems but a brief respite from whatever environment the writer typically finds herself. What happens when she leaves the colony and once again she is surrounded by noise? Her writing goes all to pieces again?

Searching for silence seems to me something like a quest to find the Fountain of Youth, or El Dorado.

Should Writers Fear Silence? Suppose you were subjected to a total lack of noise--I mean nothing. You're in an isolation chamber. No sound can penetrate. You can't hear anything. How long before you went crazy?

Outer Space As A Writers Colony


I've heard it's extremely quiet in outer space. It would make more sense to blast off in a rocketship and travel beyond the earth's atmosphere and spend some time writing your book way out there. I'm sure it would be more quiet than some creaky old house in New England. Assuming again the idea is to find that elusive quiet that writers so desperately need.

Imagine the quality of your precious prose written in outer space that would undoubtedly be far greater than anything written here on noisy earth! Hello Nobel Prize!

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