Last month, I finished my new book, How To Bake A Perfect Life, and sent it off to my editor and agent, who are both speedy readers. By the time I polished up a couple of talks for a conference and returned home, they had turned it around, and I plunged into revisions. There’s a fairly tight schedule here (the book is out December 28), complicated by the fact that I’m traveling for nearly all of June, and we had to get everything done before I leave.

Over the past week, I’ve noticed that I’m indulging in all things wordless. I walk around my neighborhood and spy catkins hanging from an aspen tree. They’re backlit by morning sunshine, making all the tiny hairs glow. The sight seems incredible, extraordinary, and I shoot twelve pictures of them with my phone, first with the regular camera, then with a funny little app called Hipstamatic, which has brought me no end of delight. Bemused, I wander on, my brain quiet.

A few days later, the sun is out, spring is finally arriving after the long, cold winter, and I gorge on bedding plants at the local Lowe’s, which have “distressed” plants for .50, and I buy everything pink. Dianthus and dahlias and snapdragons. For hours I plant in wordlessness, soaking in the sunlight, drinking in the endless, minute variation on this single color, pale to dark to vivid. The smells of earth and lavender fill my empty heart.

I cut a stalk of lilacs, and put them in a vase. The smell makes me think of my grandmother, long gone now, and I wordlessly remember her eyes crinkling. She sat with me through the whole of the writing of this book, a book about grandmothers and mothers and the way we get in each other’s way and help each other out. She’ll like it, I think. Because my phone is handy, I shoot the vase, the star-shaped petals, and the color of light. Purple fills me. Tiny bubbles cling to the glass, and light shines through the base to the table, and I shoot that, too.

Flowers. Light. Color. Scent. I use words to describe them here, because words are what I have, but my weary brain soaks them in as pure experience. It’s looking at the shape of a single lilac star, at the variations of one color, at the fingernail length of a catkin because that’s all it can manage at the moment. One thing at a time. Close up.

Writing a whole book is a tremendous undertaking. We tend to forget that sometimes, just how gigantic it is. We are writers—that’s what we do. But it’s hard work. A book has a lot of words and people and ideas, and sentences that should make sense at the very least, and perhaps be sometimes beautiful, and strong. It has zillions of details that we somehow manage to hold in our minds (mostly). It takes a lot of hours to just physically put the words on the page.

And what gives out, for me, is the word functions of my brain. By the end of the book, I often find myself with speech aphasia—I can’t come up with words for simple things. Fork. Sky. Foot. All my words have gone toward the book, and I can’t find any for talking.

It makes sense, then, that all my pursuits are wordless. After all that work, I’m filling the well, almost instinctively. We’re traveling soon, too, which is something that I often schedule to give the girls in the basement to play with, and I’ll no doubt do many wordless wanderings and shooting of little things in faraway places. When I return, I’ll be filled up again, moist with words that need shedding, and I’ll get back to work, happily.

How do you fill the well? Do you find as much pleasure as I do in wordlessness?


About Barbara O'Neal

Barbara O'Neal has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life, which landed her in the Hall of Fame. Her latest novel, The All You Can Dream Buffet has just been released by Bantam Books in March. A complete backlist is available here.