Writing advice from Rolling Stone Keith Richards

Music documentaries are endlessly fascinating to me, and they beat documentaries about writers hands-down when it comes to engrossing visuals and sounds. About the only thing the two documentary types have in common is an above-average culture-quota of black leather jackets. Garth Marenghi, Jim Morrison, I’m looking at you. Except I’m not, am I? Because I can’t tear my eyeballs from your matching jackets.

As I watched the recent Rolling Stones documentary, Keith Richards let slip a gem while doing his very best Jack Sparrow impression…”When it comes to music I look out for the silence between the notes,” he said. I’m paraphrasing wildly, but that’s honestly what he said. “That’s where the magic happens.”

And he’s right, isn’t he? Lots of magic hides in the silence. Look at those strange pauses infused by Indian rhythms in Get Ur Freak On by Missy Elliott. Look at the deep blues of the Rolling Stones, and the weird sexy dangerous bits between the thuds. Look at every song ever by the White Stripes. Meansters made fun of Meg’s blunt attack of the drum machine, but under Jack White’s mentoring her simple, drawn-out icky thumps make up 50% of that tasty alchemical gumbo.

Is it possible to play with silence in writing as well as music? Can it be laid bare to give depth and structure to a thing? Can you zen yo bad writerly self into seeing the spaces between the leaves of a tree as tangible,  as much a ‘thing’ as the leaves themselves? I’m pretty sure there was a zen exercise about this. But I practice the Zen of Forgetting on a regular basis, so I’m not the best person to ask about things of the past. On the upside, ask me how many pairs of stilts a mouse should have and I’m THERE, baby.

Anyway. Silence in words?

Maybe it’s the rhythm and cadence of a thing.

Maybe it’s the empty page itself, printed or made of light, and the way you make the lines squiggle onto it. That phrase. That word. Maybe it doesn’t want to hang out with the others in a big old herd paragraph. Maybe it’s outgrown them. Maybe it wants to hang out on its own, over…


Or maybe word-silence is the weird void where the thoughts come from, even if you sometimes stumble and think there’s nothing there. Maybe word silence lies in all those latent potential ideas as they build sufficient kinetic energy to come out of the void. Maybe it’s the pull, the rush that lurks behind every episode of writer’s block. I’ve always suspected that writer’s block represents too many ideas jostling for attention, desperate to be the one at the front, not too few. Yet, because they’re potential ideas, they’re only visible when you shine a bright light on them. We think they’re not there. They’re the emptiness. The not-here. The silence.

For me, writer’s block is a silent world doesn’t exist. It’s a really interesting void, a sunless abyss where Things Want to be Seen. Where Things Squirm Around in the Dark.

I’m not sure what word silence might be, yet.

But if it’s anything like as powerful as rhythm and blues, it’s a powerful thing indeed…


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Shannon A Thompson

You need the world, and the world needs good people.

one bow...

Malena Lott Putnam | storyteller. strategist.

D.E. Atwood

...writes books she wants to read...

Kip Wilson Rechea

Write, travel, eat, repeat.

Encyclopaedia Vanitatum

a dictionary of spectral curiosities

Sarah Hans

Author, Editor, Educator

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