The Writing Shed: A Community Blog

Author Ann Elia Stewart blogs about writing

The Power of Silence

Written by Ann Elia Stewart, Community Blogger | Oct 23, 2012 9:15 AM

I must have known the power of silence way back when I had written about it for a college speech class. Our task was to write a persuasion piece on any topic so I had selected "silence." On the day of my presentation, a tape player and a blank tape (pre-iPods) accompanied me. As I launched into what essentially was a sales pitch for this wonderful new product that delivers peace of mind, a chance to hear your own thoughts and permission to drop out of the chaos of life for a short time, I illustrated the speech by "playing" the tape.  Of course, it was blank so what poured from the speakers was. . .nothing. As a bonus to the power of silence, the entire class also folded itself into the quiet. And yes, the speech earned an A. 

Fast forward some 30+ years into a classroom I now lead: a class of five high school students with enough courage and confidence to enroll in my creative writing class at the Capital Area School for the Arts. Last Friday, a few of my students had been pulled from my class to participate in a collaboration between film and dance so I was left with two out of five. I knew I couldn't review our current assignment (screenplay development) and I also knew that the two in my class either had to edit their script or continue working on it. 

I try to maintain a studio-like atmosphere in my writing classroom. We workshop our materials, roundtable style (nod to my former writing coach, Duncan!), and I generally do not allow electronic devices for anything other than writing or research. I had been trying to get one student to open up his thoughts on paper from the beginning of the school year, but the pace of the class and a couple advanced writers proved intimidating to this sophomore*; I knew he had a story to tell, but a steady diet in his regular classrooms of "read this book and write about it" muffled his voice. He had asked if he could listen to music. I know from my own son that kids today can multi-task, that is do their homework, text, check Facebook, listen to music. (They can't clean their rooms, but that's a tangent.) So, I experimented and allowed it. 

Within the first two minutes, he fiddled with the music selection. Then it was too loud for my other student who was in editing mode, even though headphones were being used. One warning about getting back on task plunked his attention back to writing his story.

More fiddling with the music selection. 

And teacher called it.

Once he freed himself from distraction, this young man who had difficulty from Day One putting his thoughts onto the page suddenly started to . . .write.  He literally could hear himself think.

He's still working on his screenplay and I'm liking it:  he had taken his thoughts to a whole new level, bathed in the calm of silence.

*The other students are either juniors or seniors, and I am realizing it's a big leap for a sophomore. All the more reason to admire the kid's tenacity.

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