Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Importance of Presence for a Writer

As a writer I have been encouraged by my publishers to meet my readers online. When having an online conversation I am often talking to a small square icon or thumbnail, yet this picture is very important to me as an idea or representation of the essence of the person.

Recently I went to a writing conference and looked for all the people I had met online. One by one I managed to identify each person from their thumbnail, but unsurprisingly the real person was always radically different from the person I had constructed in my mind from the online conversation. The icon, along with the typed conversation, flattens out the persona so that it is hard to get a sense of who is actually there, behind the words. 

When confronted with a real individual though, it is easy to hear the music of the voice, see the posture, appreciate the energetic or listening quality of the personality. In these days of online relationships it is easy to forget this presence – the most important part of the person.

Presence implies a deeper more connected awareness of the world around us, and so the ability to be a vehicle for what needs to be done. I believe words can carry presence if the writer is aware whilst writing; and that words can carry a certain intent. After all, without the written form so few religious or spiritual ideas of the past would have survived.

Yet to look at writing only as a way to preserve ideas, i.e. the end result, is to miss the point, and to forget the importance of presence. Writing is a form like any other artistic endeavour where the process is as important as the outcome. 

Becoming a Writer
Click to read PDF

In her classic book, still in print since 1934, ‘Becoming a Writer’ Dorothea Brande says that excellent writing has ‘innocence of eye’ and ‘freshness of response’. To create these qualities we must discipline ourselves to stop ‘doing’ and spend more time ‘being.’ From stillness of mind and body united, a new perspective can arise. 

To maintain presence in writing is to cultivate space in oneself to let new ideas emerge, but more importantly it is to maintain a space for the response from the reader. After all it is not only the writer, but the reader who has to imagine the book. Skilful writing is not only about what to include, but more often about where to leave things open.

I have been a meditator all my adult life, and that is how I find presence in my life. Other people find it by walking in nature, by using mindfulness techniques, or practising yoga. Do feel free to share how you nurture this aspect of your writing.


  1. I read Dorothea Brande's book years ago when I decided to take my writing seriously and devote myself to it. I found it such a wonderful book, and I still dip into it at times. It's true that meeting in person those you've met online adds such a dimension to the connection.

  2. Thanks for your comment Elizabeth! Perhaps we will meet up one day!