Arts The crucial tool

Published on December 5th, 2012 | by msalt


The Art of Being Still

Novelist Silas House in the NYT (12/4/2012):

“Too many writers today are afraid to be still. … I’m not talking about the kind of stillness that involves locking yourself in a room with a laptop, while you wait for the words to come. We writers must learn how to become still in our heads [while we live the rest of our lives], to achieve the sort of stillness that allows our senses to become heightened.

“I transform the mundane task of grocery shopping into a writing exercise by studying my fellow shoppers through the eyes of my character, a man who is on the run from the law.

“I eye each one with suspicion and dodge any cop who might be trotting along with a grocery basket in hand. I sometimes steal a quirk from a woman nearby to apply to one of my female characters in the book. I am multitasking, but there is stillness at work here.”

I go back and forth on this one. Silas House does a great job of explicating this approach, but I worry that what he calls being “being still, in our heads” is mostly just “being ‘in our heads’,” instead of integrating body, mind and heart. Instead of being present. There’s something very calculated about it all, even obsessive.

My heart wants the answer to be “live your life fully in the moment, and let your stories emerge organically as they will.” But when all is said and done, he’s the successful novelist and I’m the aspiring writer.

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About the Author

Mark Saltveit is a writer, standup comedian, skimboarder and dad based in Middlebury, Vermont. His improv show "Palindrome Fight!" will be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Aug. 5-29th 2022 at the Kilderkin Pub, 67 Canongate, at 7:30pm each night except Tuesdays.

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