He does not wish to have his verses circulated/among those who prize money more than honor.~Master Heldris of Cornwall, Silence

Ask a writer what she’s up to and you’re liable to get a strange answer. I don’t think my friend was expecting the one she got when she called.

“What are you doing?”


“Re-reading a thirteenth-century French romance about cross-dressing. For research.”

Pause (on her end this time).

The anachronistic tools of my trade.

There’s been a pause on my end now for a few weeks. Despite my best blogging and social media intentions, I slip into prolonged periods of silence. I would rather be silent than speak but say nothing. This may not be good socmed procedure. I don’t know. The part of my brain that inhabits thirteenth century French romance has a hard time getting riled up about these sorts of things. But the neurotic twenty-first century part manages to feel twinges of guilt about silence, because it implies a monastic cutting-off from the world of bits and bytes and LOLcats.

Sometimes I just don’t have much to say.

This doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. Everything is, but in this winter season, it’s happening beneath a frost-crusted layer of iron-hard earth. In silence. In darkness.

I’ve been in between projects. In January, I completed a major revision of a novel and sent it back out into the world of queries and submissions. In the inevitable stillness that followed, I’ve been pondering publication and my future as a writer. It’s easy to slide into dark nights of the soul. Lately I’ve felt myself slipping into one. Is it wise to devote so much time to writing when there are no guarantees I’ll be able to make this into a career? If I fail to make a living as a writer, what does that mean for my life trajectory? for my happiness? These questions are plaguing me lately.

This kind of funk generally means it’s time to start writing in earnest again. So, with one novel revised and re-sent into the world, I’ve been struggling to pick up the next project. Finally, yesterday, I found myself getting excited about revisiting a novel I wrote several years ago.

Though it isn’t inspired by the thirteenth-century French romance–its initial conception predates my encounter with this poem by a decade or more–my story is informed and enriched by this wondrous and quirky old tale. It’s fascinating how much we forget. As I bent over my facing-page translation last night at my son’s desk, reading by a yellow circle of lamplight as he drifted to sleep cocooned in a nest of stuffed animals, I rediscovered the bit about the dragon.

I’d completely forgotten that there was a dragon in this story. It’s not particularly important, except as a way to motivate a plot point. But it is a dragon, and so, well, yes, it must be important. It’s this kind of small rediscovery that pricks the imagination, that unfurls like dragon-smoke in the chill air of a medieval wood.

Here be dragons~in Sarah Roche-Mahdi’s brilliant facing page translation of Silence.

I want desperately to make a living doing what I love–telling stories. But the reality of this writing business is that my chances of failure are vastly huger than my chances of success. This is a hard dragon with which to grapple every day. A published YA fantasty writer whose work I’ve followed and admired wrote not too long ago that if she couldn’t publish her novels, she wouldn’t be a writer–she’d find some other way to earn a living and gain recognition. This confession has become a touchstone for me–I realize that, while I would like my work to result in bills paid and a name for myself, there is no way I can’t write. I serve the stories, and on some vast cosmic level, that is its own reward and no other is imperative. So I’ll keep doing this, despite the dark nights of the soul that stretch into weeks and sometimes months. Because the price of not writing is my soul.

Yesterday while I was drinking tea–my morning ritual when life isn’t too chaotic–a sudden flutter of shadows dappled the wall. I jumped up and turned to the window to see a huge flock of birds settling in the trees outside, their noise audible through glass and wood. It felt like a revelation, like a benediction. Things are on the wing. Change is coming. Good change, I think. If I had lived in another time, I would have been an ornithomancer. I study the flights of birds for wordless messages, their calligraphy etched dark against the winter sky.

Bird wings, dragon wings, things on the move. It’s time to speak again, to serve the story. I don’t know what this means for blogging, for social media, but I know what it means for me.

The river is moving./The blackbird must be flying. ~Wallace Stevens

8 thoughts on “Silence

  1. “I want desperately to make a living doing what I love–telling stories. But the reality of this writing business is that my chances of failure are vastly huger than my chances of success.” I think that depends how you define success, and failure. If everyday you get to do something that feeds your soul, we’ll – at least you don’t have to worry about buying that food somewhere else. I think you’re a huge success.

  2. There is so much wonderfulness and thoughtfulness to reply to here, but I’ll just say that I’m right there with you in the silence (and feeling much doubt about my writing life for many months now) and yet today something sang out of the universe that told me it might be possibly, even if slenderly so? I’m so happy to read you’re feeling a change. In a place where be dragons, writers are certainly most welcome.

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