When Words Stop

September 16, 2014 § 7 Comments

beth_taylorA guest post from Beth Taylor:

For a while I stopped writing. Words, for me, stopped coming. I didn’t feel so compelled to report or narrate. Was it age? Or exhaustion? Or a revelation?

In my silence, I mused defensively, “Words are just words; stories made of words are just constructions. Are they really so necessary?” I seemed to forget what I had once known about words. So I forced myself to remember:

I believed in Ursula LeGuin’s naming: you just need to name what it is to know it, to own it, to become it.[1] I believed in Biblical narrative as essential metaphor for the ways of all life. In the beginning was the WORD. I saw what words could do – how words could woo love, guide knowledge, calm sorrow. And I saw how words could wound, start a war, kill a marriage.

I remembered too, the intrigue of research, the journeys of drafting, the pleasure of publishing essays and stories about interesting people. And I remembered how, off and on for a whole decade, I felt compelled to give words and voice to my own family story. But, curiously, the words of that story – once so three-dimensional and constant in my mind – now seemed like a long ago movie, images flickering, dialogue faint. Perhaps in the making of that story I fulfilled my own journey of the word. Afterward, it was good, but it was gone, and I felt empty in a pleasing kind of way. As if I had shed a skin.

And now I could rest. Be quiet, inward, peaceful. Every story of my life seemed muted and no longer so pressing – the scenes from a 30-year marriage with the usual contradictions (he said, she said); the scenes of our boys, now grown men, whose lives, I realized now, didn’t look like the stories I imagined for them. (How did I ever presume that my words for them might become their words?).

Recently, I have made peace with my silence: The words of my past are gone, but I can remember them fondly. Once they felt glued to me, held me together, defined my outline and my story. But now they have lifted from me, floated off one by one. I feel like a feather, like air, like I am slowly becoming translucent as I age. I am not unhappy or displeased, just aware of how fertile a silence can be.


Beth Taylor is an essayist, the author of The Plain Language of Love and Loss: A Quaker Memoir, and a co-director of Brown University’s Nonfiction Writing Program.

[1] Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness


§ 7 Responses to When Words Stop

  • Reblogged this on kristin nador writes anywhere and commented:
    What is your relationship with your writing like? Enjoy this beautiful meditation on a writer’s connection to words from essayist Beth Taylor, via Brevity Magazine’s Nonfiction Blog.

  • Jan Wilberg says:

    I am feeling much like this right now but am waiting for the next words to say. I know they’re there. I just need to look in a new place.

  • I so understand! I had a great idea for a blog/e-book series centered around something I know and love inside and out…doing stuff around Florida. However, my life was (IS) chaotic and when I finally sat down to start writing I was so exhausted and numb that I struggled to organize my thoughts, focusing, and cohesively constructing something worth reading, and honestly spent any of my free time sleeping or fighting to stay awake (working multiple jobs, etc.). I also struggle with topics, because I constantly had doubts of “but everybody knows about this place or that thing” BUT the reality is that most folks that live here in Florida don’t have a clue about what’s in their own back yard. Maybe some have heard of a few places, but are interested in knowing more. A new fire was lighted under my butt. I was talking to a coworker that’s a native to Florida (Miami) who to my surprise knew very little about all the cool things to do that don’t cost much at all. She was so interested in hearing more that she (still) comes to me every morning to learn something new. A muse! That was the problem…I had never really fine tuned my audience. Just like everyone says, define your niche (Florida activities), then your sub-niche (for folks who know absolutely NOTHING). This has opened up so many creative windows for me that I have to be careful not to sprint out the gate with too much content all at once. Now instead of writing such broad topics like “FL fishing adventures”, I can write about detailed topics like “how to bait a hook for freshwater fishing” “…salt water fishing”, etc.
    You’re probably a much more experienced writer than I, but I hope this helps?

  • Been there . . .

    For me writing is a conversation. If no one’s listening and (maybe more important) if no one’s speaking back and otherwise responding, the words dry up. Any actor can tell you that monologues are hard to pull off. One-person shows are even harder. In a one-person show, the actor is rarely talking just to her- or himself. Sometimes she’s talking to the audience, or a particular person in the audience. Other times she’s addressing a character that only she can see at first, but in doing so she makes that character visible to the audience. Writers can do that — we’re often doing it without knowing it. A poet friend was once asked who she wrote for. She responded: “I write for the woman who told me ‘Your poems make me work so hard — but it’s always worth it.'”

    Some of the people I write for will never buy my book or read my blogs. I write for them anyway.

  • Erin says:

    Lovely piece: I hope Ms. Taylor’s fertile silence ends with a chatty wordiness! I look forward to reading more!

  • […] morning, while procrastinating warming up, I went over to Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog and found “When Words Stop” by Beth Taylor. Beth Taylor was writing for me, whether she knew it or not, so I had to write […]

  • Jacqueline Ascrizzi says:

    This is a beautiful piece, a beautiful peace.

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