The Hiss of Silence: When We Don’t Write

Photo credit (cropped): matryosha (CC BY 2.0)

“You just have to turn up.” ~ Ian McEwan

In a recently published interview, bestselling and award-winning author Ian McEwan spoke about the difficulty of the writer’s private “hiss of silence” (scroll to the bottom of the post to watch the video):

“Sometimes I think I don’t like writing. I really hate it. I avoid it. Even when I know exactly what it is I’m going to write next, I just can’t bring..drag myself upstairs to the study to do it…. Other days, it just is irresistible.” ~ Ian McEwan

Following up on yesterday’s responses to the question “Why do you write?” here are your thoughts on “Why do you NOT write?” They are worth reading carefully, as I am sure they echo what most writers feel and think. Thank you to everyone for your candor and generosity. Bolded emphases are mine.

Why do I not write? Because I get too busy with parenting! Mostly. :) Lately I’ve been doing a daily sort of journaling project, and counting that as my writing, even though it isn’t creative writing.  ~ Jessica

Why do I not write? Because sometimes it’s just hard and I’m avoiding it. When I have to write a scene that is difficult for me to wrap my head around either because of logistics (an intense action scene) or consists of heavy emotion, I sometimes procrastinate. ~ Melissa

Fear. Fear that what people have always told me was true. That I was worthless and didn’t have anything new to say or think. But I, too, haven’t ignored my dark. I still treasure the poetry written in the dark. It, more than anything, expresses depth and raw sincerity. ~ Melissa

Why I don’t write is so much easier than why I write. Not enough time. Don’t have anything to say. Other things take priority. This turn about got me thinking that I need to go back and “noodle” some more on why I write. ~ Sheryl

In those times when I’ve tried to write, I’ve never gotten past the beginning. It’s always seemed that the story has been told before, and better, by someone else. ~Shan

And from Annette:

With my academic background I never feel I know enough so keep putting things off until I have done more research. I can write a first draft, but that doesn’t need perfection and it is OK to put notes in brackets (need to find this out!) but then I put off the rest. And sometimes I get stuck even on a first draft, or choose to write something easier. That’s the trouble with a PhD, the main thing it teaches you is how little you know, or even can know! I try to think that I do know more than most people (about what I was studying, though I want to write about other things now) and who really cares anyway (me! and my ex-supervisor!) and plenty of people write stuff with glaring errors in (though they will irritate me if I spot them…) but it does stop me from writing, or at least stop me from finishing stuff.

Also New Shiny Syndrome afflicts me quite a lot :) which doesn’t so much stop me from writing as stops me from finishing one thing before I want to move onto the next. And indecision. I have ideas at various stages of notes/planning/drafts for more than ten novels. Sometimes I finish a poem… :)

And then if I’m feeling tired and ill it’s hard to feel motivated to do anything. Also at the moment my laptop is malfunctioning so I can’t write in my favourite place on my preferred computer. I really must get that sorted out. And I have all these other things to do before I focus on writing again.

What we can take from McEwan’s experience is that as useful as it might be to understand why we don’t write so as to create more effective writing strategies, one solution—simple but not always easy—rises above all, even for the most successful authors: showing up.

“I have to write it to find out what it is.” ~ Ian McEwan

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