Silence is rarely appreciated by the silent. Creators want to create; writers want to write; the opinionated want to speak their mind. There seems to be a fear that if we remain silent, if we fail to produce, that we are failures; we have accomplished nothing. To many, it is a cultural assumption that what matters most is the final results of our efforts, but inherent within this cultural assumption is that our results must be achieved by busyness and our waymarks must consistently show progress. We must be loud, we must be busy, never silent. We are in an impatient culture and apply that very impatience to ourselves.
The fields of our imagination are plowed and planted. Let the fields lie fallow a little while. Let go. Be unafraid of silence.
I have been afraid more often than I like to talk about, afraid to allow myself to be forgotten by others, afraid to allow my opinion to go unheard, my story to go untold. I have been afraid of the silence, of the failure to produce, of the failure. But silence is a virtue. "Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding."1 Silence is an opportunity for us to grow.
Creation is an act of the subconscious. The mind is a tremendous and wonderful thing. It can take the things we learn from every field, every activity, every moment and weave a wealth of new creations in every aspect of our lives. We are informed by so much more than we give credit to, both our interests and our skillsets, the things we glean and the things we dig our hands and hearts into. But not the things we speak. These things we speak are the harvest of a fruitful planting, the time we spend immersed and working without deeming our work complete, sometimes with very little to show for our efforts.
A psychology professor named Brian Bates once ran a survey of some of the most creative architects in the field.2 He identified two keys to their creative genius with significance to all creators: immersion and delayed decisions. "They deferred making decisions as long as they could."3
Immersion into the creative process demands a letting go of finality, an opportunity for many parts to flow together until they coalesce and blend and merge and become threads of a single whole. It demands a failure to resolve and instead to follow each potentiality to its fullest realms of possibility. Each final decision you make reduces the number of possibilities.
Creativity is not as much like baking as so many of us assume. Creation does not happen in a vacuum. It is more like stone soup, where new ingredients are added continually, percolating together into something richer and more flavorful than it would otherwise be.
When you first encounter an idea, it encounters every previously relevant thread that has been woven into your life and mind, and it is tempting to immediately share the instant opinions that form. But wait a little while and allow those ideas to compound, to become more than a sum of their parts. Share from the fulness of your heart rather than from the half-formed ideas of your mind.
When most of us have a problem that’s a little bit unresolved, we’re a little bit uncomfortable. We want to resolve it. The creative architects had this tolerance for this discomfort we all feel when we leave things unresolved. ~ John Cleese
If I am quick to speak and slow to listen, I will never learn and outgrow this pot I've planted myself in. I must listen and develop and create inside my mind before I can create in this outward world, and truly, in so many ways it is more satisfying to bring to fruition the fullness of my vision, as taking the time to create a meal is more satisfying to me than simply eating a grab-and-go snack or prepackaged dish.
Percolation is an active process: tasting, seasoning, playing with ideas. Draw out a bowl every so often, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Songs and stories and articles have often emerged from the same well. Create fresh from the stores, but do not stop percolating, do not stop allowing those ingredients to continue to simmer. We must learn to know when the soup is ready.
I have created short works of fiction and music from one idea, then later created new, richer, deeper works that more fully articulate the range of what I desired to express. I have taken a recipe I love and developed it into new and better creations or ones more suited to a different need. When I was told that I should turn a short story into a longer work, I agreed but left the piece alone. It was effective and lovely as it stood. I was silent. In time, new threads wove themselves into my pattern, new patterns emerged, and at last, a new tapestry was born.
The fear of imperfection or incompletion so often stems from the need to prove ourselves to the world around us. This is so detrimental to essential creativity, which comes from our own hearts and passions and not the approval of others.
Have nothing to prove. Create because you love to create. Create because if someone somewhere will be blessed by what you say, what you write, what you paint, what you compose, that person deserves their blessing.
- Proverbs 17:28 KJV ↩
- "4 Lessons In Creativity From John Cleese" by Rae Ann Fera ↩
- John Cleese, ibid. ↩