Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 7, 2007

Quietly Writing

I can be as chatty and giggly as the next female, but when I write, I like a quiet space. The long expanse of snow and sky outside my window now sets a welcome mood. Of course the kitchen is rarely perfectly still or silent after the sun is all the way up. The phone might ring, music might play. The dogs are determined to fend off squirrels stealing sunflower seeds from chickadees or protect the household from dried blowing leaves. But my long-held quest is to reach a quiet space in my mind and come up with words from there.

Is this a good thing? Dina and Bruce in my writing group just reported to us about a panel on writing in the digital age. Apparently a questioner said her writing was often returned by editors who called it too quiet. I’ve heard that one, too, more than once. The panelist suggested that trying to write quiet prose from a quiet mind was not going to get her far in publishing, because readers today are busy, noisy, multi-tasking, all-over-the-place, and they want writing that reflects their busy, perhaps even frenetic, state of mind.

What are your thoughts? In our time, is there a place for quietly-placed words?



  1. I’ve been getting the “too quiet” comments too.
    I’d like to think that while children like adventure and fast paced plots, that there is still a place for a quieter story.

  2. I’ve heard this elsewhere recently, that “quiet books get lost,” etc., which I find sad. I would think the occasional quiet book would provide a welcome respite from the fast-paced world that even kids are caught up in today.
    Ultimately, we really can’t blame editors, who are under more and more pressure to produce blockbuster titles. I know there are still “quiet” books being published (a friend of mine is selling them regularly). They’re just fewer and farther between. When a not-so-in-your-face book receives critical praise, I do a little happy dance.

  3. There are several quiet book manuscripts living at my house right now. No one can say whether they will ever find a place in the frenetic marketplace. In the interest of balance, I think we need some quiet books.

  4. I think there’s still a place for quiet books, and I think there are still kids who want them, too. Not every kid is alike, any more than every adult is (and I know plenty of adults who handle silence worse than some kids I know). Like all markets, this one may expand and contract, but I don’t see it going away.
    And I’m always a little suspicious of anyone who tells me that one has to write certain sorts of books or in certain sorts of ways in order to sell, because it’s never that simple or monolithic.

  5. Oh, I hope the quiet book never disappears.
    So much of one’s reading preference is based on personality, isn’t it? As well as upon where he/she is at emotionally and situationally when selecting the book?
    I love a quiet book (even as an adult – the cozy mystery, the tender romance), and I found myself enjoying your post because of its quietness.

  6. Pif.
    This is a load of old socks.
    Writing is not a formula. It is not one part noise to two parts coffee plus a splash of Xbox equals rollicking prose. Quiet books can be written in windy train stations and clatter-bang books can be written in library rare book rooms. It all depends on the writer.
    As for quiet books not having a place, again I say hogwash.
    Yes, the biggest selling books today are pretty flashy — and I think that is a fine thing. If readers are demanding some flash, then fine.
    But one of my daughter, Six’s, favorite books ever is TOYS GO OUT. Another is TWIG. Both of these books give her quiet and comfort.
    Right this second she is reading the action-packed ROXIE AND THE HOOLIGANS (for the sixth time) and she also loves the Ramona books and THE PENDERWICKS and Edward Eager’s Magic books.
    I think a frenetic state of mind wants to see itself reflected, yes, but it also has times when it craves quiet and order and peace.
    . . . man, I’m going on for a long time here . . .
    I do think, however, that it is harder to market a quiet book and in an age when publishers are cutting back and needing blockbusters, it is the rare quiet book that will find print.

  7. …and it’s those quiet books that speak to the heart that kids are most likely to sleep with. At least mine did.

  8. Absolutely. Thanks for the affirmation. It means a lot.

  9. Yes, good idea not to bemoan too much but too celebrate the good, and quiet, that reaches bookshelves.

  10. Yes, yes, balance and fairness, loud and quiet. I truly hope those quiet books find a welcome place beyond your (cookie scented) home.

  11. Thank you for your faith in expanding (especially) and contracting markets. And you’re “a little suspicious” of anyone who tells you people have to write certain sorts of books in certain ways. Come on, I know you’re hugely suspicious! As we should be! Thanks for commenting.

  12. Thanks for your kind words. And you’re right in making the link, that we tend to write what we love to read. And like you, I’m less attracted to flash and dazzle but like something that slowly quietly enters my little world.

  13. Thanks for the great reply. Pif and hogwash and “this is a load of old socks” (not cute cover-worthy-ones)– those are going to be my thoughts for the day. I love your daugther’s eclectic reading tastes, and the reminder that — most of our tastes are pretty eclectic. So bring it on — whatever!

  14. … and I have to admit that it’s a book a child might want to slip under a pillow is one that I’d love to write.

  15. Okay, I’m a lot suspicious in excessively polite ways. 🙂

  16. Yes – me too!
    My mid-grade novel that is out with editors right now is short and quiet, and we’ve already gotten a few nos. It may not sell, and that makes me sad. Still, I think you have to write what calls to you, and if it’s great enough, hopefully there will be one editor who says – we need more books like this. 🙂

  17. Best of luck, Lisa.

  18. absolutely the hope is for the one wise editor. Good luck. I want to read this!

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