Settling into Stillness

2022 has been a busy year for many of us as we return to life IRL. We are back to commuting to our offices, at least a few days each week. Kids are back in school and life has “returned to normal”–more or less. As we take up our old, familiar, more active pace, when is there time for writing?

I ask at the beginning of most of my classes, “How was your writing week?” Sometimes I’m met with enthusiasm, but more often, I get the jiggling hand signal that means “so-so” or a head shaking “I had a really busy week.” That’s how it’s been lately for me, too.

In ancient times, people created elaborate rituals to ensure (because they never knew for certain) that the sun would return and the earth would become green again. As we move through the shortest days of the year and the longest, darkest nights, perhaps we all need to create a special ritual for ourselves to ensure that our creativity will continue.

That is where the stories live: in that winter-dark cave of the mind.

As I write this post, it’s just past sunset. My favorite time to write is in the evening and well into the dark. I have closed my office door, shut off all the lights, lit a candle and placed it between my keyboard and my screen. Only candlelight and the computer’s blue-glow guide my fingers across the keyboard. Sometimes I even close my eyes and feel my fingers speaking for me.

To create requires stillness and an openness to thought. Sometimes, when I sit down to write, I have a clear idea of what I want to say. Sometimes there is only a muddled feeling. And sometimes I’m just blank. Stillness is the way that I reach into the dark muddle and find words that say something, even if I’m uncertain what or why or even if they mean anything at all.

Sometimes my words are a ramble, a cluttered mass of nonsense or a vomit of complaints. When I write this way, I realize that I am “clearing my throat” which feels like a waste of effort until I finally uncover the path to true stillness that allows me to go deep.

That is where the stories live: in that winter-dark cave of the mind.

We all have our own rituals and ways to meet the muse. My candlelight vigil may sound pointless or silly or just plain weird to some of you. I would not presume to know the best way to get you there. But I hope we can agree that stillness is required, even if your stillness means earbuds and loud music, or writing in a crowded café. If that helps you to settle your thoughts into the creative space in your mind, then go off to your favorite busy, creative cave while I settle quietly in the fire-lit dark of mine.

Whether you’ve struggled with your writing this year, succeeded, or something in between, I encourage you to take a deep breath and settle into this end-of-year darkness. Do whatever you need to create a silent space to reconnect with your own muse.

It is waiting somewhere just down the path. Follow the stillness and you will find your way.

(Originally published on The Writers Circle’s Blog, December 16, 2022)


Judith Lindbergh is the author of The Thralls Tale, about three women in the first Viking Age settlements in 10th C. Greenland, and the founder/director of The Writers Circle. Her newest novel will be finished soon.