Wednesday, 25 March 2015

That ‘wordless recreation’ -- Jo-Anne Berthelsen

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.

8 comments:

  1. I find I get my best ideas when I'm mopping the floor! I think I need to find some more interesting "wordless recreation".

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  2. Maybe mopping the floor is a kind of metaphor for clearing out the clutter that has blocked that creative flow for you, Susan???? But yes, I reckon there must be some sort of 'wordless recreation' for you out there that might be a bit more interesting and at least semi-creative!

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  3. Great article Jo-Anne. Last night I was working on my weekly post for the Masters unit on journaling. This week was on creativity and a fellow student quoted Dorethea Brande. I had posted mine then read yours - it was almost deja vu :) One of the things we were discussing is "incubation time". I do like Brande's concept of "wordless time" - for me it is often the shower or driving - or walking.

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    1. I find the shower works for me too, Jeanette--especially if I am preparing to speak somewhere. My theory is that the flowing water relaxes me enough to receive God's inspirational 'living water'! I love driving too--by myself, that is. And preferably not in the middle of Sydney traffic!

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  4. Great idea Jo. I find walking somewhere in nice scenery is best for me - preferably at the beach, though that doesn't happen very often. Apart from the benefits of being able to rest our brains for a while and hearing from God, it's also good for observation and honing those powers of description. We have the chance to really look at things when we're not talking or reading (or doing something else with technology).

    Some years back, I took up watercolours. I'm not very good at it, but I noticed that after a while, it did change the way I looked at things. Clouds were no longer white, grey or black, but tinged with a whole range of colours. Trees were no longer brown and green, but every shade imaginable. We have to really look at things to see the depth in them, and those quiet pursuits are best for that. I guess it wouldn't have been easy to be quiet in the days of typewriters! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for these comments, Nola--really insightful. I am a hopeless artist but I can well imagine how painting with watercolours (or anything) would cause someone to look at the world around in an entirely different way. Sounds better to me than the horse riding or the whittling that Dorothea Brande's friends did anyway!

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  5. Jo-Anne, lovely post :) One thing I dislike about deadlines is they limit my thinking time aka. wordless recreation. Housework and mundane tasks work for me, as well as exercise.

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    1. Sounds like you have had to make those mundane tasks work as 'wordless recreation' for you, Narelle--I honour you for that! And yes, I don't think I would like to be obliged to write to a deadline, although I have had to do quite extensive edits in the past with a time frame in mind. So again, well done to you.

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