At a recent meeting of a Christian writers’ group here in Sydney, I had the pleasure of hearing children’s author Penny Reeve share aspects of her writing journey. At one stage, she mentioned an old book, Becoming A Writer, by Dorothea Brande, originally published in 1934. I had never read it, so, because I love books that deal with the writer’s attitude or mindset rather than with the ‘how-to’ of writing, I decided to buy a copy.
This book makes for quaint reading in spots—for example, when Dorothea Brande mentions how every author has his or her own portable typewriter these days! But, in amongst all the great ideas for tapping into our unconscious mind, writing to a schedule, reading as a writer and more, I found a little gem of a chapter entitled ‘The Writer’s Recreation’. In one section there headed ‘Wordless recreation’, I read the following:
If you want to stimulate yourself into writing, amuse yourself in wordless ways. Instead of going to a theater, hear a symphony orchestra, or go by yourself to a museum; go alone for long walks, or ride by yourself on a bus-top. If you will conscientiously refuse to talk or read you will find yourself compensating for it to your great advantage. ... Only experiment will show you what your own best recreation is; but books, the theater, and talking pictures should be very rarely indulged in when you have any piece of writing to finish. (p 133 Tarcher/Penguin edition 1981)
What would Dorothea Brande say these days, I wonder, about writers who sit for hours watching TV. Yet something in me resonated with the point she was making, which was that such things, particularly at crucial times in the creative process, might not only distract us but change our whole attitude to our writing or perhaps cause us to give up altogether.
|Our garden in process|
I am not at any crucial writing stage at the moment. I have finished a non-fiction work and am still between books, unable to decide what to pour my energies into next. But right now, I am learning the huge value of ‘wordless recreation’. Yes, I am reading lots (sorry, Dorothea!). But recently, I have re-discovered how enriching the simple, mundane task of gardening can be for my creative mind. It involves hard work and persistent effort—yet I find it so rewarding when I see what my co-labouring with God, the ultimate Creator, has been able to bring into being in our poor garden.
Alongside this, I have re-discovered how baking—another mundane, wordless task—can also feed that creative part of me at times. Too bad the results in this area do not stay around for me to enjoy looking at for long! Perhaps my next challenge will be to emulate some of Dorothea Brande’s writer friends from the 1930s and try horseback riding or sitting alone on a park bench or whittling for hours or embroidering my initials on everything I can find (p 134).
Whether writers or not, we all need times of solitude and quiet reflection, not only to be at our creative best but also to become more aware of God’s gracious presence, strengthening and renewing us daily. So ... what ‘wordless recreation’ would you choose? Which one have you discovered benefits you most?
Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne is passionate about touching hearts and lives through both the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and one non-fiction work, Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com.