Tuesday, January 17, 2012



It is said that the brilliant writer, Edith Wharton, wrote in bed. With her Pekinese on the pillow beside her, she would lie back on the pillows, writing in longhand and throwing the finished pages on the floor beside her for a secretary to gather up and type. Marcel Proust, another famously supine author, had the walls of his bedroom covered in cork and reclined with a fur lined coat draped over his legs as he wrote his beautiful words.

Thackeray wrote in hotel rooms.

Thomas Mann, in a chair by the sea.

J. K. Rowling prefers a noisy cafe and Victor Hugo wrote in the nude.

For all my pecadillos, and I have them to be sure, I have found that I really only require one ingredient for optimum concentration when I’m writing, but it’s a vital one. Quiet. Blissful, peaceful, almost Franciscan, quiet. This past week, my lack of, and need for, a quiet state became apparent and a good friend tossed me the keys to her wonderful house in the marshes of South Carolina, telling me to make my way there in haste. Without being told twice, I threw a few old sweaters into a bag, grabbed my laptop, a book or two, my knitting, and fled. Upon reaching the low country, I stopped off at the market for yogurt, celery, Pellegrino and fruit and arrived at my sanctuary just as dark pulled her curtain across the tops of the pines.

And I noticed it as soon as I stepped cross the threshold.

Blessed silence.

Calling my friend to let her know I had arrived, she proceeded to give me instructions on operating the space age electronic system, but I only heard a few words.

Television, docking station.... iPod... Tony Bennett.

I had not the heart to tell her, but I had no intention of turning the thing on at all. Music dancing through the house would perhaps be perfect for a summertime visit, with the windows and doors thrown open and me with nothing to do, no thoughts to think. But this trip was to be different. This trip, I needed to work and to work I needed silence.

It’s been said by those wiser than me that true silence is a sound unto itself. If that’s true, then it is, I’m afraid, a sound we in the modern age rarely, if ever, hear. So akin as it is to solitude, many of us find true silence unsettling and avoid its company whenever possible, preferring instead to fill our hours with a bombilation of sound so profuse it is often difficult to distinguish any individual component. But just as I occasionally thirst for solitude, I also crave silence at times and this week was to be a quiet one, with only Nature’s calming voice in my ears.

I opened the double doors onto the capacious screened porch, and heard a dusky breeze rifling through the palmettos outside, like the rapid turning of the pages in a book. A waterfall of rain hit the roof one morning, a soundtrack so pure it served to focus my thoughts rather than distract them.

The pops and creaks of a settling house when the temperature drops at midnight.

The cry of a hawk sailing over the trees.

The splash of an alligator as it slides down the bank into the pond cross the road.

Hot water running in the bath.

Bubbles in a glass by my chair.

One tiny blossom cut from the newly blooming tea olive as it lost its grip on the branch in the vase and fell like a cottonball to the table beside me.

These were the sounds I began to notice as the week slipped by, inspiring sounds that seem to bestow, rather than steal, creative thought. And my mind, so cluttered and crowded, befuddled and loud when I arrived, was shiny and sharp on the long drive back home. No longer were my thoughts and ideas undisciplined, each one talking over the other in rowdy bids for my attention. Now they politely sat in my head, orderly and accommodating, waiting for my consideration.

Dear Virginia Woolf once advised that a woman requires “money and a room of her own” in order to write. I would respectfully add a wee bit of silence to that equation.

After this week, I highly recommend it.

“True silence is the rest of the mind.

It is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.”

William Penn

1644 - 1718


A marvelous book on living with silence was written a couple of years ago by Sara Maitland, entitled Book of Silence. Included in her experiences with silence, she describes a forty day solitary stay on The Isle of Skye that I find both courageous and, occasionally, utterly tempting.


  1. I can completely relate. Sometimes just the crackle of the fire is all the soundtrack I want in the house. In the forest here, there are often hours with just a slight hint of human noise out beyond somewhere. Quiet is one of the most necessary ingredients in my creative process. Sounds like a really lovely retreat you had!

  2. Not much silence in Southern California...noise. constant...threating...never ending...ceaseless.

    I long for silence.

  3. Hello Pamela

    You escape sounds idyllic and neessary.
    "inspiring sounds that seem to bestow, rather than steal, creative thought" this is so true as you so eloquently put it.
    I need total silence when painting, no radio or tv. I also find I drive in total silence when alone.
    Spending 40 days on the Isle of Skye along is very brave. I don't think I would have the courage for that.
    Helen xx

  4. I have always believed in "A Room of Her Own". A go to place for solitude and communication with one's mind and soul. I am so glad you found it.

  5. Bravo! The noise of the modern world can certainly splinter the soul whereas the sounds of nature except in hurricanes and such is like pure balm and not only unobtrusive but also soothing.
    This is the reason I live 'far from the madding crowd'.

    Creativity, whether painting or writing for me needs the peace of being alone without expectations placed on one's time.

  6. Yes, silence is wonderful and so is solitude.

    I love your menu, but would add a little cod liver oil:D, that's the Norwegian speaking.

    Have a good Sunday!

  7. Silence is so rare in this modern world, everywwhere you go there is a cacaphony of sound. I, too, am a person who requires both silence and solitude on a fairly regular basis but real silence is very hard to find on this small island - even on the moors there is usually a distant hum of traffic or the noise of planes flying overhead. Young people these days appear to actually be afraid of the sound of silence but to me it's a beautiful sound.

  8. Interestingly Pamela, sitting in the dark silence of pre-dawn, I have just read this article from the New York Times...
    on creativity and solitude.

    Having fully agreed with the article, I add that I once rented a de-consecrated chapel on the coast of Devon for a 5-day solitary getaway. Something I had been dreaming of for many years. By day 3 I had phoned my daughter to please come and be with me. The daytime hours were fine, but I found the solitude of the evenings unbearable and was truly unable to sleep.

    Solitude is a powerful thing.

  9. A perfect post as I sit here in the 5am silence....my favorite time of the day!

  10. I do find myself distracted not just by external but also internal noise. Silence on both sides is so vital to creativity. Perhaps meditation should be my new prewriting activity. I find that the Ommwriter writing software comes in handy when I need silence.

  11. Hello Pamela:
    Although essentially free, silence seems to be a very expensive and elusive commodity these days. Finding it can be an adventure in itself. Your break away sounds to have been utterly idyllic and, we are sure, has been exactly what was needed to feed the creative process. Strange how sometimes nothing is everything that one wishes for!

  12. What a beautiful post. Sometimes silence can be like a best friend.

  13. Sounds devine Pamela and I am so so envious! It reminds me of a scene from Joan Anderson's book, 'A Year by the Sea'..imagine that! So glad you found peace, it is alluding me these days. I am with you, it makes all the difference. I keep thinking, someday...
    In the meantime, I am blocking all sounds around me and focusing on just you. I have lots to catch up with. You have given me plenty of inspiration already...you are my muse. :)

    Jeanne xx

  14. Pamela we are on the same page! growing up in a large family with five rowdy brothers; I cherish silence, even over my classical favorites.

    It sounds like a very special getaway!

    Art by Karena

  15. Oh and Pamela the artist? Is it Parrish?


  16. I love silence in moderation Pamela but not sure that I would want it for several days. I live in quite a silent place - way out in the country - and being deaf I hear little if have do not have my hearing aid switched on.

  17. I, too, crave silence, especially lately. True silence is hard for me to find here as we are close to an expressway, but, in winter, with the doors and windows shut, in can be had and I take it whenever I can. Today, it is quiet, and sunny, and restful. I'll think of you as I listen to the quietness, Pamela, and of your lovely

  18. after reading sara's 'book of silence' i told my friends i needed two days a week where i would enjoy solitude and silence. i thought they might be insulted or offended in some way, but they have been wonderful. i chose mondays and wednesdays. my blood pressure is helped and i have a respite from the phone, which i have always hated. it's lovely. no speaking on those days at all. it nourishes my soul!
    as always your posts are a blessing.
    tammy j

  19. this is a very heart warming post. solitude and silence are basic needs that almost everyone can enjoy. Where was Edward? Was he a good silent boy?
    Kathy and Kris

  20. Great post.

    Silence isn't valued enough, nor solitude. There seems to be a need, these days, for every moment to be filled with sounds and speech. Things going ping and people scared of that pause in conversation.

    I'm happy with silence. I find it inspiring.

    Thanks for the nod to the book. I will be buying this. :)

  21. I, too, thank you for the nod to the book. I also read 'A Year by the Sea' and could relate. As well, I recognize one's need for 'silence', essential for one's sanity and balance on our journeys :)

  22. Oh, Pamela, what a wonderful post although it is a mystery to me how people live with so much noise. Most of the time, I'm surrounded by silence from man made noise...no blaring television or radio but the dogs snuffling and snoring, cats purring, cattle lowing, horses neighing, sheep calling for treats, the wind amongst the trees and at night, the lovely call of the barn owl as he leaves my barn, gliding to his hunt.

    Silence is the ultimate white noise and God uses it to restore our souls so we can better hear His whisper.

  23. Silence is sometimes hard to come by. Living in a house with four cats, two of which are young and their middle name is play can make it tough. I too require silence to do my best work. Thanks for the wonderful post!

  24. Lovely post! An early morning walk under the moon every day is the perfect antidote to noise for me.

  25. There is a theory that silence does not exist anywhere and if it did would we want it? I can imagine that the Isle of Skye would be filled with the noises of nature, wind, birds, sheep, water etc. but I understand what you mean, you want an atmosphere free from distracting noise.

    In sound proof environments it is said that we hear our internal noises, heartbeat, breathing, swallowing! I suppose we just have to blot out the aggravating noises.

  26. I read Sara Maitland's book last year. I have a need for silence too (at times) and also solitude. Without periods of both I would go crazy.

  27. .....can you hear me Pamela? I'm whispering so as not to intrude on the silence!

    I experienced almost perfect silence in northern Thailand at the Four Seasons (I posted on it recently). Sunset over the distant mountains was only interrupted briefly by the soft tinkle of bells and beat of a drum from the workers as they made their way home across the rice fields. It was awesome.

    Lovely piece - glad your kind friend shared her home so you could enjoy the quietude.

    Happy New Year - Mary

  28. Wonderful post! I agree that Virginia Woolf could have added silence to her formula for a woman's independence. I feel very lucky that we live in a quiet neighborhood, though we are close to some very noisy and bustling areas. I am so happy you got to get away and enjoy some peace and quiet!

  29. Anne Morrow Lindbergh's 'Gifts from the Sea' has been forever on my shelves, - well thumbed and commented on and regularly re-read.

  30. How fortunate you were to be able to accept your friend's kind offer of a place to envelope yourself in silence. My family members all crave music and electronics. From time to time I have to escape - to walk on the beach or in the woods, and once in a while on a silent retreat of several days. There I maintain inner and outer silence - no writing or reading, just walking, dreaming and thinking. It helps.

  31. What a wonderful post Pamela, you made me feel peaceful just reading it. I am the same, my creative process needs complete silence :-)

  32. Living in a huge noisy South American city like Buenos Aires, "quiet" is as rare and precious as any jewel.
    It is amazing what you learn to block out :)

    Needless to say, I get peace and quiet from reading blogs such as this and from daydreaming about moving to a place in the country .. in another country.

    Besitos, C

  33. Oh how I loved your words...
    'I opened the double doors onto the capacious screened porch, and heard a dusky breeze rifling through the palmettos outside, like the rapid turning of the pages in a book.'
    I was transported and could hear them!
    Living in the suburbs I long for silence, always there are sirens, car-engines, burglar-alarms, car-alarms. Even in the dead of night when the cars disappear you can still hear the city. How wonderful your stay must have been!
    Dear Pamela I'm with you on requiring that one ingredient for concentration when writing, quiet is definitely a must.

    Hugs Jane

  34. My daily life is quiet, and most days I am alone. I think I am comfortable by myself from growing up an only child. I know many people who cannot bear silence. I'm good at it. :<)

  35. I enjoyed hearing how those authors work best. I’m rather boring: I write on a laptop in my office, and like you, I also need quiet. I find that peace while the kids are at school. What a wonderful friend to send you on a writing retreat!

  36. Oh yes! I need both solitude and silence on a daily basis. I go crazy if I have to do without either of them.
    I can't wait to read more of your words, Pamela. I'm looking forward to what you're working on. I know it will be marvelous!

  37. Lovely sentiments, all. I am reading about Dolly Wilde (neice of Oscar) who loved to spend time in bed. I've read that Maya Angelou rents hotel rooms for her writing. I must admit that I love to read and write in bed, the coziest place in the house until the heating comes on. I'm afraid after living with a noisy husband and step-son I've lost most of my pleasure in background music. I remember when they left I sat for hours mourning the broken marriage but revelling in the sound of the central heating kicking on and the ice maker crackling away in the freezer.

  38. I am afraid my "silence" still carries the din which too many would consider deafening noise...funny how I have become so accustomed to my definition of my type of silence that true "silence" is rather frightening.....

  39. About the time you were having your silent retreat, I was having my own on Fripp Island; probably not too far from where you were. I rented a house for a week to get away from my noisy family. About once a year, I need to completely get away from my life and do exactly what I want to do. I painted, blogged, wrote, gazed at the ocean, walked, biked, slept, and read. Divine!

    Some famous authors have been able to write in the midst of family life. I wish I could do that, but I need silence in order to get my thoughts together and down on paper.

  40. My mind is calmed just reading this...!

  41. I think you would enjoy reading The World of Silence, by Max Picard. Beautiful post.


I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!