The gifts of writing – 1

I’m constantly aware of the ways that being a writer enriches my experience of life, and the run-up to Christmas feels like a great time to think about three gifts of writing in the House of Dreams. Today, the gift of stillness.  

Years ago, a friend of mine told me she’d seen me in the supermarket, but hadn’t said hello. She said I was just looking at the apples, but with such a quality of stillness and concentration that she didn’t want to break the spell.

When she said it, I remembered that moment. I had been looking at the apples, but I wasn’t thinking about them. Their shapes and colours had caught my eye and held me there, but my mind was open, unfocused, receptive.

The great American writer, Henry Miller, said that an artist was someone who had antennae, who knew how to ‘hook up to the cosmos.’ The elements that made up a poem or novel or any work of art were already in the air, waiting to be given voice, and that explained why themes and discoveries tended to break at the same time in different parts of the world.

Writing teaches you to be receptive. The more you do it, the more sensitive your antennae become. In dreams and daydreams we can more easily ‘hook up to the cosmos’ but it can happen any time, even when we’re doing the most ordinary things, such as supermarket shopping.

In these moments, time disappears; there is nothing but openness, and presence. You are completely ‘in the now,’ not thinking about the past or the future or your shopping list; not thinking about other people, or yourself. Not thinking about your writing, or work, or any of the things that usually anchor your mind.

You would not want this to happen all the time – that would be madness – but in this busy, busy world, for a lot of people it never happens at all. If you want to be happier, they say, ‘Slow down,’ be more ‘in the now.’ When a writer’s mind puts its antennae up, that is a little bit of bliss.

Next week I’ll be giving thanks for another of the gifts of writing. I do hope you’ll call by.

In the meantime, writers, do you have these ‘apple’ moments too?

13 thoughts on “The gifts of writing – 1”

  1. I love your line, “Writing teaches you to be receptive.” We normally think of writing as something active. In fact, Western culture (and maybe my American culture in particular) teaches us that active is better. Doing, creating, and giving are better than receiving. But I’m with you and Henry Miller: I think there’s a lot of important stuff out there to be received. And a lot of the stuff we think we’re “creating” is really just arriving from somewhere else. At least, that’s the way my writing feels a lot of the time.

    1. I think of that daily writing as the seed-bed that develops you as a writer, and in which you get the odd seed that springs up into a wonderful flower!

  2. I love the sentiments in your post Jenny. Those moments of appreciating the beauty in something we see everyday are special to the creative mind. It really is a gift to be able to view the extraordinary. I have a journal which I call my little book of blessings where I jot down things I have heard or seen during the day that have given me pleasure. One of the benefits of writing this way is that it does remind me of the importance of slowing down. Something I find increasingly hard to do at this time of year!

    1. A little book of blessings – what a lovely idea! And writing is a way of savouring them, and enjoying them again.

    2. I started one of those too, but unlike you Carolyn, I forget to write in it everyday. I come across it periodically, read past entries and then start adding things again. I started mine at a time when I noticed I was complaining a lot and needed to be more positive. It worked wonderfully. As for those moments of stillness I’ve always naturally been able to slip into them – my mother used to chide me for them, calling me a dreamer and telling me to wake up. I see them as necessary to my wellbeing. They revitalise me.

      1. Parents and teachers always seem to chide children for ‘daydreaming’ don’t they? In our culture, it’s seen in an entirely pejorative way, as a waste of time, lack of concentration, or even laziness, and squeezed out with ever more activities such as home-work and out-of-school clubs.

  3. Beautiful, Jenny. I’ve had times when life events (and sometimes writing deadlines) have put blinkers on me, but to me that’s always a sign that something is very wrong. And when I can finally see things again – the outline of branches against sky, the smell and weight and curve of a pear in my hand – it’s such a relief.

    1. Oh that’s so beautifully put, Amy. ‘The outline of branches against a sky’ makes me realise this almost always happens, for me when I’m walking in nature, which might be one reason I like to walk every day. I may be head down, worrying about a plot problem for a mile or two, but sooner or later the grip of thinking is released by a sudden noticing. I think of it as being surprised by joy (and then my plot will usually sort itself out, somewhere in the back of my mind)

  4. I have those moments all the time. People sometimes think I’m being weird. But, I tell them I’m thinking about a story. If I’m feeling devious, I’ll tell them I’m plotting. I won’t specify what, but they usually leave me alone after that. Seriously, though, I always get lost in my own cogitations. It’s pretty much what keeps me sane – and creative.

    1. Sane and creative – yes! As Pat says, it’s necessary to our well-being. I think this ability to daydream/zone out keeps us open and growing, where too much logical thinking and busy-ness can close things down and make us feel trapped and dissatisfied

      1. When I was in grade school, the teachers always commented that I spent too much time daydreaming, which was partly true. I usually found school boring. If something isn’t cerebrally stimulating, I often just zone out and sink back into my own thoughts. But, my mind is always rumbling, mainly with story ideas and how I can make my own life better. People who aren’t of that creative mindset simply don’t understand, and that’s okay. I don’t feel the need to explain myself anymore to people.

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