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Searching for the Sound of Silence


Apr 29 2014
A writer’s struggle with "quiet time."

A recent Thought Catalog article dished out some research about writers. They're depressed people, awful lovers, overly thinky, and largely unhappy.

As a writer, I should recoil at these words. I should get nervous about statements like:

Writers think a lot and people who think a lot tend to be unhappy. Add to that long periods of isolation and the high levels of narcissism that draws someone to a career like writing, and it seems obvious why they might not be the happiest bunch.

But alas, I know it's true.

I think a lot and sway unhappy, so this characterization of writers actually comforts me. Finally, some reasoning behind my abhorrence for those spiritual disciplines so many writerly thinkerly types love: the hush-hush of silence and solitary prayer and activities like quiet walks through empty canyons.

More often than not, my writerly head's too busy for those kinds of things. I roll my eyes when these come up as the surest way to hear God's voice. When "stilling" our souls and minds is a must to grow spiritually in this noisy world. When sitting lotus position before a cross and a candle in a tan-walled room is seen as the holy posture de jour. When I just can't get seem to make any of that work.

For most of my life, I thought this was a problem. I couldn't stop the stream of thoughts and ideas—during church, during prayer, during Bible reading. I'd scold myself for having stop 30 seconds into a "quiet time" to jot down a story idea for later; for spacing out mid-prayer, wondering suddenly about grocery lists; for not getting one sentence in to a Bible passage without asking, "Wait. What?" and spending the rest of my time Googling.

I thought this happened because I was spiritually weak or—to be honest—because I was mad. Turns out, this happens because I'm a writer. (The other two options may still be true.) Researchers found writers "cannot focus on one thing quite like the average person. Essentially, their stream of ideas is always running — the tap does not shut off — and, as a result, creative people show schizophrenic, borderline manic-depressive tendencies."

Sure enough, this "inability to suppress the precuneus [the memory-retrieval and self-consciousness part of the brain] is seen most dominantly in two types of people: creatives and psychosis patients." Again, strange comfort indeed. But any time we discover or get one step closer to the why of our difficulties, we're also a step closer to combating them. If deemed fighting for, at least.

Related Topics:Psychology; Writing

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