Mary Casanova: Cultivating Quiet

by Mary Casanova

bk_WeltyEudo­ra Wel­ty wrote in One-Writer’s Begin­nings: “Long before I wrote sto­ries, I lis­tened for stories.”

The more I write, the more I find that writ­ing is about lis­ten­ing to sto­ries that need to be told. Lis­ten­ing at a deeply intu­itive lev­el, how­ev­er, demands shut­ting out a fre­net­ic world in favor of a qui­eter life — one that sup­ports and nur­tures cre­ativ­i­ty — and writing.

Sev­er­al decades ago, my hus­band and I left St. Paul for life on the North­ern Min­neso­ta bor­der. We were both drawn — then and now — to a qui­et, con­tem­pla­tive life. These days, we spend plen­ty of time at our cab­in read­ing by the wood­stove or hik­ing through the woods. Liv­ing “Up North” has meant less time in traf­fic, less city noise, and more time to gaze up at stars and lis­ten … some­times to a cho­rus of spring peep­ers, oth­er times to a dis­tant pack of howl­ing wolves.

It would seem my envi­ron­ment is per­fect for writ­ing. It most­ly is — when I’m home.

bk_FrozenThe real­i­ty of being a full time author means lead­ing a dual life: one is an intu­itive, intro­vert­ed life of writ­ing and the oth­er is a per­for­mance-based, extro­vert­ed world of speak­ing and meet­ing the pub­lic. Speak­ing, tour­ing, and social media are all impor­tant means of stay­ing con­nect­ed with read­ers, but none of those activ­i­ties trans­late into writ­ing time.

Some authors write on the road. Some don’t. I’m one of the lat­ter. After pre­sent­ing all day at a school or con­fer­ence, I’m spent. I can return to my hotel room and tin­ker with revi­sions. I can jot down bits and pieces of ideas. But I do my real writ­ing when I return home and sink into four-hour blocks of unin­ter­rupt­ed quiet.

That’s one kind of qui­et nec­es­sary to the actu­al work of writ­ing. The oth­er kind of qui­et comes by lis­ten­ing to the sub­con­scious. When I’m not at my com­put­er, for instance, I’m car­ry­ing sto­ries in my head as I bake in the kitchen, gath­er eggs from our chick­ens, or clean out horse stalls.

bk_graceThere’s also some­thing mag­i­cal about that qui­et time in the ear­ly hours of morn­ing, just between first stir­ring and becom­ing ful­ly awake. I’ve learned to cul­ti­vate an extra 10 min­utes in bed to “lis­ten” to where my sto­ry needs to go next. I often get the answers to ques­tions I have about a cur­rent work-in-progress.

Of course, whether in the city or the coun­try, life doesn’t always offer easy stretch­es of qui­et. You often have to seek it. When our two chil­dren were lit­tle, qui­et was hard to come by. I carved out time. I wrote dur­ing their naps and start­ed going on writ­ing retreats. When our kids  became teenagers and our home was filled with their garage-band friends and elec­tric gui­tars, I found a small stu­dio to escape to. I learned ear­ly on that if I didn’t val­ue my writ­ing needs, no one else would either. And the past few years, I’ve need­ed to for­go days of writ­ing time to help care for my 86-year old moth­er who has Alzheimer’s. What mat­ters is not wait­ing “for the kids to go to col­lege,” as I’ve heard more than once, or “when I retire” but to claim unin­ter­rupt­ed blocks of writ­ing time wher­ev­er life finds you.

More than ever, in a hyper-paced world, writ­ers need to cul­ti­vate qui­et to hear the whis­pers of sto­ry within.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Joanne Toft
8 years ago

Thank you — nice­ly said! It is the lis­ten­ing that leads to writing.

David LaRochelle
David LaRochelle
8 years ago

I could­n’t agree with you more, Mary, about mak­ing writ­ing time a pri­or­i­ty rather than wait­ing till the per­fect writ­ing time comes.

Catherine Holm
8 years ago

Nice, Mary. So true. Thank you.

Elaine Bonnell
Elaine Bonnell
8 years ago

How I need­ed to read this. I don’t val­ue my time being a care­giv­er. Thanks for the aware­ness if I don’t val­ue my time…no one else will. Thank you, Mary. I always enjoy your writings.