The sky is a sea of gray clouds, sun fighting to peek through. The sun sets early, streaks of orange and pink a reminder of summer fire. The trees are bare, roots stretching deep into the earth.
My husband and I leave a jazz concert, our bodies and minds and hearts alive with the thrill of brass and percussion and a bit of string, and step into the cold winter air. I snap a picture of the sun setting against the backdrop of the campus that is the heart of this college town.
Part of me is always thinking about goals. How many words can I write in a year? How many words should I write in a year? How many projects can I finish?
And yet winter reminds me that sometimes we must cultivate inner stillness. Sometimes we must be quiet and listen. As writers, as storytellers, as artists, our primary function might be that stillness, that ability to listen.
I listen to the world around me. In pausing to drink in the sunset, in sitting in a beautiful performance hall to listen to jazz, in sitting quietly in the evenings and sipping my tea while I wait for characters to whisper, I am, in fact, listening to the earth and those of us who populate it, whether human or animal or tree or flower. And I am listening to something mystical, something spiritual, that ether out of which stories are born.
Cultivating stillness is difficult in a society that makes little room for it. We must always be doing something; we must always be achieving. We must always be counting and quantifying; we must always be striving and reaching and grasping.
Are goals and deadlines good things? Of course. They keep us accountable. They have their own seasons. Spring is the season of sowing, of goal-setting. Summer is the season of tending, of patient toil. And autumn, the season of the harvest, when all we have planted and tended comes to fruition. It is the season in which we celebrate a job well done—and yes, that is something we need to celebrate.
As artists, we have these seasons. But we must also, like the earth, have moments of quietude in which we listen. From the quiet new stories are born. New characters begin to murmur. We listen, and we record.
Ultimately as writers we must learn to cultivate stillness, to reach down deep, tap a deep root like the mighty oak, sway in the wind and wait for birds to roost. We remain still and steady and strong and rooted. And we listen.
- Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. I’ve been working my way through Julia Cameron’s Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance. I did miss a couple days, but for the most part something is getting done every day, even if it’s just a few words here and there or a bit of brainstorming. I also started playing with some other ideas that might not lead to anything, such two more stories in the Faerie Forest series. One is a retelling of Snow White featuring faeries and magic apples (not just the poisoned kind), and the other involves a redcap (nasty type of faerie) running loose in a library.
- Reconnect with my spiritual practice. This week I added a page to my Book of Shadows!
- Start a regular yoga practice. Nothing.
- At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Lots of activity here. I took a quote that had been tacked above my desk, typed it up in Word, added some scrapbooking embellishments, and placed it in a frame I bought at a Renaissance Faire years ago (see photo). I made homemade sugar scrub bars, which didn’t turn out well, but it was a first attempt at making soap. I’ll have to try a different recipe. I also did a lot of decluttering, especially in my office, which we’re turning into a home library. Soon I’ll be able to say, “If you need me, I’ll be in the library.”
What about you? Do you think stillness is an important part of the creative life? Do you feel we make enough time for stillness in our lives? How do you find time to listen to the world around you–and the stories that murmur in your ear?