Monday, August 17, 2015

White Space and Silence

I am a writer. I am a reader. I am a wife. By extension, I am a multi-tasker. With all that is going on in my life, I long for white space and silence.

Open a book, preferably a novel. Look at how the words are laid out on the page. Do you see long sentences, blocks of text in dense paragraphs? Or do you see punchy dialogue, action instead of dialogue tags, single word sentences? Given my druthers, I'd druther have short and punchy instead of dense text no matter how skillful the writer. When punchy and dense combine, I'm happy as a pig in, well, you get the idea.

I once wrote a paragraph that went like this: "Cope."

Nothing more. Punchy. Pithy, Brief. In that one word I hoped to evoke a sense of finality, of surrender, in an argument. Before and after that paragraph were a series of short sentences. I gave the reader a place to breathe, to sit back and relax. After an intense scene, I as a writer needed to step back too.

White space on a page works for me the same way silence does. My favorite time of day is that half hour before dawn when the only things awake in the world are birds and me. I live where I'm generally far away from traffic, unless it's jet skis on the lake where my house is. But, that's the stuff for other posts. Maybe.

I need silence to meditate and write as I start my day. Silence encourages me to clear my mind of any leftovers from the day before. At times I lie still in bed, concentrate on my breathing and relax. When my feet hit the floor, I'm off and running.

I seek silence throughout the day. I need a screen when I write, because my pen doesn't move as fast as my fingers do on the keyboard. I don't need distractions. I don't always need to know what's going on in the world, much as I would love to keep CNN on. I'm an unrepentant news junkie.

I don't need to check in with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Goodreads. (Now that I have a board on Pinterest, I guess I need to add that to my list of places I don't need to go every minute of every day.) Friends may whine when I'm off FB for several hours. They'll have to cope, because I can't be online with them and still hit my deadlines for my novels.

So, if I'm out of screen touch for a few hours, I'm writing or editing or meditating. I'm not ignoring you. I need time for me to get my work done. If you can't wait until I'm back online, I have only one word for you.


Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, which is now available in e-book at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Jannine Gallant said...

I also need quiet when I write, Betsy. And I adore white space. Most of my books are dialogue. No long, descriptive paragraphs for this girl. I just can't write them. My pace is fast. I can't seem to slow down. Readers who want something else will have to go elsewhere or "cope!" LOL

Rolynn Anderson said...

I need quiet, as well, but even then, the distractions are rampant...notes on my desk, the birds and bunnies out the window, issues swirling in my mind. I swear, the older we get the more distractions we amass! (I wrote this last sentence, grabbed the nail polish sitting on my desk and repaired a boo-boo. Noticed my coffee is cold...will go replenish...Sigh!) It's amazing I get any writing are tougher than I am, Betsy!

Brenda Whiteside said...

Couldn't agree with you more, Betsy. I can't even tolerate music and I know many an author who love to write to their favorite tunes. But I tend to be more like Rolynn. It's a tough act to balance.

Betsy Ashton said...

It really is. There are days, like today, when I want to scream and turn off every electronic device. I was out this morning when a friend sent an email, a FB DM, a Twitter message, called both my cell and home phones and then texted me. She was "worried" when I didn't jump on what she wanted to say (she was having a good day and wanted to share). Had I been writing at the time, I would have turned everything except Word off.

It's hard enough to concentrate when we sit down to work without everyone thinking we aren't "working" because it's "only" writing. Sheesh.

Enough. Back to work. My 15 minutes for ranting have run out.

Leah St. James said...

I'm with you, Betsy. I've just finished a mini vacation with my sister and I've been basically "unplugged" for five days. It's been wonderful!

Diane Burton said...

I need quiet to write also. It always amazes me to read authors' playlists for a book. I rarely listen to music when I write and even then it has to be without words. Love white space on a page. I'll skim long paragraphs--an usually miss something important. Give me dialogue. Short dialogue. LOL

pdrobertson said...

Hi, Betsy, one of my blogs about authors who influenced me mentions both Joan Didion, in her essays, and Annie Dillard's book "For the Time Being," both of which use white space in a way I love. When I was involved in the copyediting phase of my book recently I fought for white space, asking over and over that a sentence be "floated" with just that extra white space in between. It is a way of laying out words on a page that for me resembles a sort of slide show--click, pause, click. I love it. And one of my morning prayers asks for "the gift of Holy Silence." Both provide breathing room, elbow room, time out of time. Thank you for this blog.