Let’s face it, writing is difficult. It takes a lot of self discipline and motivation to consistently sit at a blank page and say, “Hey, I’m gonna turn a bunch of crazy brain thoughts into literature.” Especially when it comes to long-form fiction where fatigue can often derail a project long before its truly done. But those truly dedicated to their craft always find ways to keep their head in the game in order to complete their projects. For example, during my sophomore year of high school I took a vow of silence until I finished writing the play I was working on.
Now I don’t know how a 15 year-old stumbles onto the idea of taking a vow of silence and I especially don’t know why I would think this would be a good idea. But needless to say on one random Thursday, in the middle of school mind you, I decided, “Hey, this stupid play I’m writing is way more important than the ability to verbally communicate with my peers.”
Two things to know: 1.) I don’t remember what play I was writing. I’m not sure I even have it anymore. So this story won’t go down in my official biography as the breakthrough moment on my way to a Nobel Prize. 2.) I was very quiet during high school, particularly during sophomore year when I had very very few friends, but it is 95% impossible to survive a day in a public high school once you’ve voluntarily and inexplicably gone mute.
I was able to get through half a day of silence with no problems. My vow was taken some time during my final period of the day on Thursday. I couldn’t stand the den of chaos that was my Spanish II class, so there was no reason for me to talk during that class and the evening bus ride home was always spent with my headphones deeply implanted in my ears and staring at Kelsey Snavely with wide, unblinking eyes.
My parents worked late that night so the vow of silence at least kept me from talking to myself which was an unexpected godsend.
Day two was a little harder.
I don’t know how I managed to get through the morning drive to school with my dad without saying a word, but I know it was done somehow. Maybe I wrote a note that was like, “In the pursuit of fulfilling my dreams as a playwright, I am currently engaging in a vow of silence until my masterpiece has been completed. I regret to inform you that our usually scheduled awkward banter must be postponed until further notice.” Or he could have just thought I was being a dick because I was 15 and that’s kind of what I did. I mean, I didn’t have a rebellious phase. I was just sort of a moody prick sometimes.
My first period was Biology. That was easy enough to get through. I usually just kept my head down and stared, unblinkingly, at Trina Baker. Honestly, I was able to get through most of the day because I was the quiet kid that just wrote in his notebook all the time. Everyone just hoped I was writing elaborate murder plots.
But there were hairier moments that were harder to get around. In classes like Journalism and Geometry I actually had a handful of acquaintances and small talk was somewhat expected. I had a tiny little flip notebook that I would scribble vague apologies and half-assed attempts to explain what it was that I was actually doing. It was met with a lot eye rolling and some judgey-laughter but mostly they were pretty cool with it. Which was good because I needed allies for when teachers would call on me in class.
Out of seven classes, I was forced to answer questions during lectures. I would quietly scream inside and then scribble down the answer (most of the time, the wrong answer) into my notebook and my friend would have to stand in front of the class and explain why they were the one reading my wrong answer. It mostly went, “Chase is doing some dumb writer thing so he’s not talking, but he thinks X is 72, but its not. Sorry Mrs. O.” And people the whole class would laugh at me and say dumb things and I would have to have to grit my teeth and know that this was in the pursuit of art.
I could limp my through most of the day, but then I had an unexpected quiz during seventh period. The kids at my table had asked why I wasn’t talking and I went through the, now tired exercise of explaining what was happening. They were oddly supportive, which would be helpful for when I had a question mid-quiz.
We all had our heads down deliberating over the subtler points of conjugation when I reached a point that I simply could not get passed. I looked around frantically. Hoping to cheat, maybe. Anything but having to raise my hand and figure out how to talk to Ms. Rivera, who still terrifies me to this day.
But I couldn’t figure it out and so I had to raise my hand. She was on the other side of the room and when she saw my hand in the air, she simply said, “Yes? What is it?” I tried to wave her over but she was reluctant to move. “What is it?”
Then one of my table mate spoke up, “Chase isn’t talking today.”
She walked over with a huff and stood next to me. “What do you mean you’re not talking today?” I shrugged. “What does that mean?” I wrote on the side of my quiz. “I’m trying to finish my play.” But for some reason that wasn’t enough of an answer for her.
I tried to ignore her questions and write the question that I had on the side of the paper, but she was not interested in reading it or playing along with my insane theater of dorkiness. After a few minutes of squirming, I finally whispered the first words I’d spoken aloud in 24 hours. She quickly and dismissively answered my question and I went on to stumble my way to a C on the quiz. But the magic and the vow were broken.
So my challenge only lasted for about a day. It was as valiant an endeavor as it was stupid. But hey, I think I finished the play, I seriously don’t remember. Even if I did finish the play, I certainly did not finish it in that microscopic timeframe.
Any writer has moments where they struggle to get themselves through a piece. Discipline is one of the most valuable tools in their toolbox. As I sit down to my work everyday and stare and the ever expanding list of stories and novels that I desperately want to write, I pray that I quickly find that miracle mixture of determination and patience that will allow me to start, lot less finish, these projects.
A vow of silence may not have been the answer, but I will find it soon enough.