Go wordless.

chase-clarke-unsplash

I’ve started writing something new. In the morning, I write before doing anything else. I try to do this every day. It’s easier to start a fire with hot coals than cold ones, and when I touch in every day, the nebulous images I’m writing retain a little of that heat and glow.

Even with a daily habit, writing before I try to make sense of the news or read email or make a plan of any kind, my thoughts are active, verbal, and rational. It’s my default setting.

Which is to say, the moment my pen hits the page, I always to try to think something up before I write anything down.

My thoughts go like this: Get your head clear and focused. What comes next? Hm. Think up something good and interesting! What do you really want to say here? What happens in this scene? Think! Think!

I get a furrowed brow, and my breathing gets shallow.

There is so much effort involved in making something up.

This happens to me every time I write, so I’m used to it by now, and I know a good remedy.

Here’s what I do:

1. First, I let myself experience wordlessness.
2. I stay wordless until I feel a moment of connection.
3. Then, I write from that connected place.

Wordless writing feels different from thinking-writing. It’s more collaborative. Writing from a wordless place makes it feel like you’re writing from the inside of the story.

In other words, you are no longer separate from it.

Going wordless looks different depending on the day. In the winter, I can go wordless when I stare at a flickering candle, watch the snow fall, or pay attention to the rising swirl of steam from my coffee. In warm weather, I sit outside for fifteen minutes, listen to the birds, and watch the wind move the tree branches or the grass.

I know I don’t have to explain this to you. You know what wordlessness is.

It’s when you’re staring into space and doing absolutely nothing. This takes the time it takes. Going wordless looks very unproductive.

That moment of connection though — this feels like going through a portal. Once you stop thinking and you’re paying attention without words, you’re deep noticing.

And when you’re deep noticing, everything you see is sparked with detail. It feels alive.

When you write from that state of mind, images, characters and scenes begin to rise up from that mysterious place where ideas live. You don’t feel like you’re thinking them up. You’re not exactly controlling them, either. You’re noticing them, and then putting them into words.

Spring is coming: all of nature is waking up, feeling alive and noticing the details. I can’t think of a better time to start paying attention without words. It’s an excellent time to write.

Such Singing in the Wild Branches

Mary Oliver

It was spring
and I finally heard him
among the first leaves —
then I saw him clutching the limb

in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still

and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness —
and that's when it happened,

when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree —
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,

and the sands in the glass
stopped
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing —
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfect blue sky — all of them

were singing.
And, of course, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn't last

for more than a few moments.
It's one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you've been there,
you're there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then — open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.


Photo credit: Chase Clark on Unsplash


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15 comments

Sarah Selecky

May it come more easily, Gina. :)
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Sarah Selecky

Hi Ingrid! Yes, that was what we were working on in Victoria! And I'm going to be leading a Deep Noticing retreat for a whole week at Hollyhock on Cortes Island this summer (maybe you can come!) xo Sarah https://hollyhock.ca/p/843/deep-noticing-for-distracted-writers/
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Stephen D. Forman

Sure seems like Calm is the 800-lb gorilla in the jungle of meditation apps. From everything I've heard, it must be excellent. In my case, I use an app called Meditation Studio (by Muse), and I couldn't be happier with it! It's become a fixture of my daily routine to meditate when I get home from work. I try to dabble in all the categories, even the ones which aren't explicitly targeted to me (eg "For New Moms," or "For First Responders"). I'm sure I'm not alone in most frequently tapping the practices from "Stress," "Happiness," and "Gratitude." One of my favorite new sayings is, "Every day I meditate for twenty minutes, unless I'm busy-- then I meditate for an hour." : )
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Sarah Selecky

Oh, Donna. I know, I know. Me too.
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Ingrid Pearce

This sounds so interesting. I'm excited to give it a try! It seems to me it will take a bit of concentration, to use wordlessness. Deep Noticing was the topic of your workshop in Victoria, right? I wish there had been a spot for me that day.:) At least I got to meet you outside on the sidewalk! So excited for Spring now! Thanks, Sarah.
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Sarah Selecky

Thank you, Lisa. I'm always up for a reminder like this (both giving them and receiving them).
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I used to allow wordlessness but lately the pressure to begin wording has encroached upon the joy of starting from pure impulse. Your post has been a beautiful reminder to just attend to the moment and net those little butterflies when then fly rather than force it. Thanks for this reminder.
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Sarah Selecky

Thanks, Carolyn!
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Sarah Selecky

<3
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Donna McKamy

I am inside out over this poem. Thank you Sarah.
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Thank you. I love this and needed to hear this.
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Carolyn McBride

Write from wordlessness...I like that!
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I love this so much. I'm going to try it.
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Stephen D. Forman

Yesterday evening I meditated outside. There came a time during the guided session to turn my attention to sounds. Being a lovely twilight in a bustling suburb, no shortage of noises flooded in-- children playing "catch" on the other side of a fence, two neighbors building a shed, thumping bass from traffic stopped on the hill beside my house, compression brakes floating over the city, the whipping of a propeller in the sky high overhead, birds whistling the "all clear." In the act of identifying each sound, I was labeling them. As you can see. I gently reminded myself, "notice without naming." Pre-verbal sensation. Ahh... glorious! This morning I read your post ("you're paying attention without words"). Ahh... glorious!
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Sarah Selecky

Thank you, Steve! Noticing without naming = bliss. Are you using an app like Calm.com or Insight Timer? Do you have a favourite guided session?
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