Monday, March 8, 2010

Wordless Recreation for Writers

"Too much reading is very bad indeed."

Yep, you read that right.

That's what Dorothea Brande said in her classic book, Becoming a Writer.

Say what?

She says writers tend to take too many "busmen's holidays." In other words, they tend to spend their "off time" doing writing-related activities (such as reading or talking shop), like a bus driver who takes a bus tour for a vacation.

And how many of us tether ourselves to computers and cell phones on "vacations," unable to totally relax?

How many of us are addicted to multitasking?

We all seem to have a little trouble in the relaxation department or chilling in a ring of silence.

"A certain amount of shop talk is valuable; too much of it is a drain. And too much reading is very bad indeed."

Too much reading? How can that be?

Ms. Brande says all of us, writers or not, are so used to words we can't escape them.

And she wrote this book in 1934!

If we starve ourselves long enough in a wordless void, we'll eventually start talking to ourselves. We'll start feeding ourselves words.

We can test it by spending some time alone. Resist books, papers, magazines, and the telephone. Turn off the TV. Shut down the computer.

When one is "sentenced to silence," words and ideas clamor for attention.

If you want to stimulate yourself into writing, Ms. Brande says, amuse yourself in wordless ways.

And don't be in a hurry to reengage.

Before long you'll find that "words have rushed in to fill the wordless vaccum."

She talked of one friend who used to lie out in the back garden and stare at the sky--until some family member came to join him for a chat.

"Sooner or later, he himself would begin to talk about the work he had in mind, and, to his astonishment, he discovered that the urgent desire to write the story disappeared as soon as he had got it thoroughly talked out."

So then he disappeared to a park bench every day and stared at pigeons for two hours.

Taking two full hours every day might be too stressful for most of us, but for a least a little while every day we could pursue wordlessness.
  • Listen to a symphony orchestra or sound tracks or "spa" music.
  • Take a long walk.
  • Ride a horse or a bike.
  • Play some solitaire (or Bejeweled Blitz!)
  • Do some kind of needlework or craft.
  • Whittle.
  • Fish.
  • Watch clouds. 
  • Noodle on a harp (!) or other instrument.
  • Sort some pictures.
  • Take a long bath or shower.
  • Swim.
  • Sit on a beach or a dock.
  • Color a picture.
  • Paddle a boat.
  • Rock in a chair or seek out a swing.
  • Throw pebbles in a lake.
  • Plant some flowers, weed, mow the grass.
  • Wash windows, fold clothes, scrub floors, or paint walls. (Come do mine. I'll be quiet.)
Rhythmic activity. Monotonous activity.
    Alone. Wordless. 

    She says books, theaters, and "talking pictures" (I suppose that means movies and TV today) should be very rarely indulged in when you have any piece of writing to finish.

    " . . . it is to be noticed that successful writers, when talking about themselves as writers, say little about curling up in a corner with a good book. Much as they may love reading (and all authors would rather read than eat), they had all learned from long experience that it is the wordless occupation which sets their own minds busily at work."

    To put it another way, we need to spend more time pursuing wordlessness so words can pursue us! 

    "Too much reading is very bad indeed."

    How are you at spending "quiet time.?" 
    What wordless recreation stimulates words and ideas for you?

    Copyright © 2010 by Sandra Heska King


    1. Many years ago, when I still lived with my parents, I used to find mowing their huge lawn with a push mower very inspirational to my writing. Also, though I rarely do it like I used to since I now live in a very urban area, long hikes in natural settings or long drives can be nice. You've gotten me to thinking that I need to breakaway from my desk and do something else for a while-- bye.

    2. I have activities where I turn off the technology, when I go on drives I'll often turn the radio off too, just for the quiet, I also like to work in my vegi patch... but... then five minutes into the silence I'm mentally going over my book, chapters, characters and so I have words spinning in my head. It's hard to completely escape words.

    3. @Lee: I hope you enjoyed your break! Thanks for coming by.

      @Charmaine: Sounds like the silence does its job. At least you hear your own words! Sometimes I wish the spin would stop for a minute and just let me rest! :) So glad you stopped in.

    4. ahhh, for a warm rainless day, for now i would like to lay in the yard and look at the sky.

    5. Sounds heavenly. But there's also something about roaring thunder and crackling lightning and the buckets of rain and billowing clouds.

      Thansk for visiting!