How Silence Can Help You Be More Creative

In the final weeks of 2017, I did that thing many of us dream of: I navigated to my iPhone settings and tapped everything to off. Email, phone calls, news alerts, social media, calendar notifications. Everything. Off.

For two weeks, I hiked and cycled through the mountains of northern Thailand.

Several days into that journey, I realized I wasn’t thinking anymore, and I started to hear something else: Silence.

I could still hear birds singing and hiking boots swishing through grass, striking the soft ground like a muted, slow percussion line. But behind the birds and footsteps, the silence was prominent – not as the absence of sound, but as its own distinct sound.

I couldn’t remember the last time I observed silence so clearly, so I sank into it for as long as I could.

I’m not sure what happened next, but by the end of my adventure in Thailand, I had had an epiphany. Not a dramatic lightning-bolt flash of insight. Instead, a subtle but undeniably strong affirmation of something I think I’ve always known: I’m a writer. And I want to write more.

I felt like the shepherd boy in Paulo Coelho’s international best-selling novel, The Alchemist. A primary lesson in that tale is that if you ignore whispers of truth, if you ignore your callings in life, they eventually fade, and you’ll no longer be able to hear them.

When I returned home to the U.S., I completed a writing master class by Duke University adjunct professor Dorie Clark, and gathered up all 10 of the Moleskine notebooks I filled in 2017. I read each one. The pages are filled with notes from projects and work, new ideas to try out, inspiration from books I read, conversations with mentors, key points from conferences and courses I attended, and entries written over Saturday-morning coffee.

HeatherPownall_MoleskineNotebooks2017
Some of the Moleskine notebooks I used in 2017.

Some of the writing is mundane. But there are gems in black gel ink and colored Sharpie markers. Little treasures, trapped within the bound pages.

Looking at the entire year of notes, I could see that the lessons I’m capturing every day in words and drawings have little value unless reflected upon, explored further, written about, and given a chance to be shared in public.

To ensure these treasures and future lessons aren’t lost indefinitely, I’m starting this blog to share my experiences, reflections and insights on learning, leadership and productivity.

I hope what I write here will interest you and offer value in some small way, and I welcome your feedback and comments.

I also hope you’ll try carving out time in 2018 for silent reflection so you can tap into your own creative passions. Whether you’re interested in writing, playing an instrument, making art, cooking, or building things — consider how you might give more energy to the things that inspire you.

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