The sounds of silence

Those oDriving...f you who’ve been following me regularly may have gathered that I like audible books. I started listening to them at a time when I was spending two or more hours a day in the car and was under stress. I found they made me a better, lower-stress driver.

Before I adopted audible books, I’d get in the car exactly two minutes after the latest time I could leave and possibly be on time for the appointment/soccer practice/violin lesson/whatever. Then I’d try to make up the time in various quasi-legal ways, even committing small crimes that I know you all have done, so stop judging me.

Ahem.

With audible books, I’d sometimes leave early, just so I could get back to whatever exciting monster Owen Zastava Pitt was mowing down when I’d left off. I’d drive at or below the speed limit to milk extra minutes out of a story (thus causing the drivers behind me stress and inciting them to commit small crimes). I’d sometimes arrive at my destination early, but still be late because I couldn’t leave Owen dangling above the earth from some Old One’s slimy tentacle.*

I said, stop judging me!

Soon I was listening to audible books at the gym, with the excuse that they block out the daily dose of Katy Perry and Moves like Jagger streaming through the weight room’s sound system. Next, I started listening to audible books while doing dishes, ear buds shoved deep into ear holes, because dish-doing is boring. Eventually, I started laying on the couch in the dark, plugged in to the ever-present iPod. For no reason at all.

Hello. My name is Marie, and I’m addicted to audible books.

It seemed like a harmless enough addiction. Way better than cigarettes or donuts. But a funny thing was happening. As I was putting the final touches on Valknut: The Binding, I figured I’d better start thinking about the next book. Story ideas tend to clutter my head to the point where I have to fight to focus on the current project, so I felt confident I could easily come up with a plot. But when I reached into the mental clutter, I found…nothing.

There were too many rocks in the well. I’d been filling head with other people’s books, TV shows, and music, until there was no room left for my own thoughts.

And so I quit. Cold turkey. Right in the middle of Steven Sherrill’s The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break (which was imbued with a sense of impending embarrassment of such disastrous proportions that I couldn’t take much more, anyway).

I thought it would be hard to quit, but it really wasn’t. I found that I enjoyed letting my thoughts wander. I’d climb in the car, turn the radio on, and then turn it off again three seconds later. I’d sit at intersections, staring blankly at green lights, thinking stuff like, “Hey, maybe my next book can draw from Korean mythology…yeah, and maybe I should add more cumin to my next batch of fajitas…but I should definitely get Tom something minty for Christmas, and if Heyboo gets much thinner, I should take him to the vet…” (All while people in back of me were committing small crimes while laying on their horns.)

I began to feel excited to write new fiction.

I began to have terrific plot ideas in the shower, again.

I began to sleep better.

I began to remember dreams for the first time in a couple of years (a mixed blessing).

Maybe it’s just me (though I doubt it), but I think our brains need a chance to air out all those random thought we suppress as we go about our daily business. We need a chance to puzzle and worry at the little things we don’t understand. To plan. To work through niggling problems. To explore the what-ifs of our daily lives. And to let our imaginations wander.

So do yourself a favor and try unplugging for a little while every day. Turn off the TV. Put your mp3 player away. Leave the radio off. You might like what you hear.

 

*It may sound like I’ve set Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter books on repeat in my iPod, but I’ve really only listened to them once through. It’s just that some books are more memorable than others…

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About Marie Loughin

I love reading, writing, and editing speculative fiction of all sorts. My current focus is on writing contemporary fantasy, where I get to play god with characters from myth and legend. My Norse-based urban fantasy, Valknut: The Binding, is available at Kindle Books and other e-book retailers. You can find me at my blog (marieloughin.com) and on Twitter (@mmloughin).
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10 Responses to The sounds of silence

  1. Jaye says:

    Reminds me of a time I asked the old man, “Ever been driving and stopped at a red light then looked around and realized you have no idea how you got there?” He gave me one of his driest looks and said, “No.”

    I’ve never cared for audio books, except non-fiction on a long road trip. I know what you mean. There are times when I turn off the radio and tv just so I have some room in my head to think. My best musing times come on long walks. Then I get lost, but oh well, gotta suffer for the art, ya know?

  2. Walking…yes. Musing while burning donut calories..

  3. cjhedge says:

    Lovely piece, Marie! A reminder that our brains love to percolate new ideas, if we only give them the chance. However, with dishes, all I can do is repeat, “I hate doing dishes! I hate…” Ad naseum. Here’s to sitting in front of the fire, in silence, letting new ideas pop up!

  4. M. Rogers says:

    I read this to Mark and he said he really enjoyed your unique voice and hopes lots of people get to read this!

  5. Tom says:

    Two things:
    1) YOU said you have rocks in your head, not ME.
    2) With you EVERYTHING is about donuts.
    3*) Yes to minty! Big lb-sized bag of Pep-o-mint and Wint-o-green Life Savers would do quite nicely. They are the three things that I really want for Christmas

    * There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count and those who can’t.

  6. Paul D. Dail says:

    I liked this post. I’ve never been an audio books fan, however, with commuting two hours each day, we’ve definitely thought about them. But we usually leave so early in the morning, it’s hard to think about anything but driving (ergo music works well. Essentially, that’s when I turn off my brain and let it wander). Silence can be amazing, though. I love to take walks out into the sagebrush. That’s some of the best silence I can get.

    Kind of different topic, but this post reminded me of what a writing professor of mine once said. Ironically enough, he said the worst job for a writer is to teach writing. This post had a similar feel. Sometimes we let everything else clutter our heads so we don’t have room for our own creativity.

    Hope you had a good weekend.

    Paul D. Dail
    http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • Thanks, Paul. I’ll still use audible books, once I’ve fully kicked the habit. They are ideal for long car trips. Our family listened to Harry Potter while traveling across the continent (3 books, 3 trips). This allows kids to watch out the windows without getting bored. It was very strange driving through the rock formations of (I think) Montana while listening to one of the darker scenes.

  7. Silvernfire says:

    This sounds akin to an exercise Julia Cameron has in The Artist’s Way where she asks you to not read anything for a week. WheneverI think of it, I’m torn between wanting to pump up my creativity—that always sounds great—and thinking that unless she can prove that I’m going to be wonderfully creative at the end of that week, I’m not losing a week of reading just for a hypothesis.

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