Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 18, 2008

Varieties of Silence

A little light (I hope) complaining can be so restorative. After my last post about the struggle to hack a new path through a revision, I borrowed Becky’s advice to herself and brought myself to a coffee shop . Being where there are no calls to chores, pets, phones, etc. helped ease me through the initial hacking away of wrong paths and through new uncertain marks on a blank page. At a coffee shop, nothing prevents me from making lists of things that need to get done, but there’s no phone, oven, vacuum cleaner, printer, etc; no way I have to get beyond the list.

This new space of summer with its fewer obligations: how I’ve longed for it, how I dread it. Silence, like a blank page, has at least two sides. It’s wonderful because here we can do anything. It’s terrible for its challenge and loneliness. The coffee shop helped trick me into its domain. Once I’ve made some lines on the page – hey, it’s no longer blank! — it starts calling me: finish me up. And I’m that kind of responsible person. I can’t let those characters hang around unclothed or speaking into their hats or on unsettled ground. There are backgrounds to provide and other characters for them to talk to.

Every morning at my computer I meet some kind of silence, and sometimes it feels grim. I can, and do, check email and read posts here, but that can only last so long. Get back, get back to a blank page, I tell myself, because it doesn’t need much and it doesn’t need to be good but even a few rough words can change everything. And once I get going, silence feels kind again. Well, kind enough. And at least it’s mine.

Now I’ve started to get back to my writing room again instead of stationing myself with laptop in the kitchen. Next I mean to shut the door.



  1. Thanks, Jeannine. I really needed to read that. I’ve let the silence overcome me recently and it doesn’t feel good. You’ve inspired me to try the library tomorrow.

  2. I’m so glad to hear you’re finding your way back into your writing room, Jeannine. I don’t know when I stopped going in there myself, but you’ve inspired me to try again. Just as soon as I can find the surface of my desk…

  3. I’ve been doing so well with my writing room, on the nonfiction book for the past month or so, that I think I was surprised when all of a sudden it became scary & intimidating. I’m off to my coffeehouse tomorrow morning. I’ve also come to realize (okay, I knew it, but I think I’ve pushed past the denial) that the best way to start this revision is WITH a blank page. 🙂
    Congrats. I’m glad its turning around.

  4. Oh I can so relate to the not going into the writing room. I don’t know what the deal is with it, for me. I sit in the library and I don’t take myself seriously so I guess it is an excuse when nothing good comes out.
    If I sit in my office, beautiful as it is, I feel the pressure to perform.
    I hope you get a few good words to start you on your way again.

  5. Good for you, Jeannine! Trying new things is always great. It’s the “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten” thing. If what you’re doing is working, great! If not, change it up! Glad you are. Good luck!
    P.S. I had to laugh at this: “This new space of summer with its fewer obligations: how I’ve longed for it, how I dread it.” My summers are the opposite. At least three times MORE obligations than during the school year.

  6. Good! The library is on my list for this week, too. Since my two favorites have coffee shops within walking distance, sometimes I do both.
    I wish you well in breaking through, Linda.

  7. That’s interesting. Maybe there is some history there that presses in another way — I think the piles make me feel daunted, too. Of course it’s not like there aren’t other piles on the kitchen table.
    But I think we should get back in there and try. xo back to you, Jo!

  8. Okay, I’ll look for you in the coffee shop. Yeah, only a continent apart. But you’ll be there, the very intent woman filling up a blank page. I’ll give you a quiet wave.

  9. Thanks, Susan. I think you’re onto something with your pressure to perform. I will keep an eye out for the Great Judgers, and give them a kick if necessary. I am into changing the routine to see what happens. But your library sounds like a good place for you. Internal editors come and you get to hiss, “No talking!”

  10. Thanks, Laura. I do remember those summe days! It is strange how there’s always going to be something in our way, and often they are just the things that nourish us, too.

  11. Silence isn’t actually golden, or at least not all the time.
    Great, thought-provoking post, Jeannine.

  12. Oh God, Jeannine, I just blogged about the same thing, and then I read your blog. Once I transition into summer, I’m okay, but filling that blank space of open time, like the blank page is so overbearing, I’m feeling depressed instead of ecstatic that school is finally over.
    But this year I do have a laptop, so I’ll see how I do at the coffee shop.

  13. Thanks, Kelly. I’m honored to provoke your thoughts!

  14. Didn’t mean to surround you with silence-avoidance! It is tough. But we will get through it. And even the thought of going to a coffee shop or library I find helps. Sometimes just saying — I’m out of here — seems to get me to scribble down a few words, and then, the page is no longer blank.
    Or we can just meet for coffee with computers!

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