My husband and I were driving home from dinner the other night, our toddler snoozing in her carseat behind us, when the shuffle on my husband’s phone queued up one of my favorite songs, the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four.” As I sang along (a little too enthusiastically), one of the lines struck me as it hadn’t before. McCartney suggests that on Sunday mornings, he and his partner could “go for a ride.” Suddenly, I was trying to remember the last time I took a car ride recreationally. The closest thing I could think of was a few years ago during our house-hunting phase, but even that was goal-oriented driving. Not even our annual Christmas lights cruising really counted since we always have a plan, an agenda.
Our parents grew up in a generation where driving/riding could be a directionless adventure or a delightful way to unplug or think through a thorny problem. Of course, with three-and-four-dollars-per-gallon gas prices and rising unemployment, the days of joy-riding are over. It is unlikely my daughter will ever experience the freedom of driving without a destination in mind. The thought made me a little sad.
A few days after my little car-ride epiphany, I came across an article on the disappearance of downtime. The article pointed out all the ways we fill every second that could be used as time to think, to let our creative juices flow. From smartphones and tablets, to mp3 players and gaming systems, some form of entertainment or information is constantly being piped directly into our brains, telling us what to think about, keeping us from thinking on our own. And we’re happy about it.
On the surface, the disappearance of the Sunday morning drive and the rise of Facebook and Twitter may seem like unrelated topics, but as a writer, it struck me how many things are stacked against us (writers, that is.) I’m not even talking about the number of distractions/excuses that can keep up from sitting down in front of the computer or taking up pen and paper to write. What we’ve lost (and often don’t even realize it) is silence, that thoughtful quiet that leads to finding the ending to that pesky short story that’s been stumping you for weeks. It’s the all-so-important downtime that can lead not just to epiphanies, but also a clearer mind. The article I mentioned above pointed to the shower as one of the last bastions of quiet thinking time, one that could be next in the assault against silence.
When I was in college, I had a forty-minute commute to school each day, and I cannot tell you how many times I sorted out a writing problem or came up with a story idea during my drive. Of course, that was before I got my iPhone. Now when driving, I’m listening to my favorite podcast or music more often than not. Remember the Beatles song at the beginning of this blog? Yep, we were listening to it in the car. No introspection for us.
I am not suggesting, however, that all is lost. As writers – and people – we need space to think, to just be. In what can only be described as a brilliant lecture on writing and process, author, Elizabeth Cox, suggested setting aside some time every day to do nothing but sit in silence. In such a noisy time, this seems invaluable advice. So stop reading this blog and turn off your computer for a few minutes…just don’t forget to come back and write something brilliant. Oh, and be sure to send it to us.