The week after Thanksgiving I headed out to Whidbey Island, off the coast of Seattle, for The Self as Source of the Story (SAS), a writing retreat/seminar with Christina Baldwin.

I’ve worked with Christina in the past so I knew I was in for a treat: Five full days to focus on my writing and my self.

The seminars were illuminating and instructive, but the greatest gift I received from SAS was the 36 hours I spent in community with other writers—in silence.

After dinner on Friday evening, we entered silence together. From that time until Sunday morning we ate together, wrote together, even walked together, but we did it all in silence.

The point of the silence was to allow us to enter our stories and stay with the material we were thinking about and creating and to take away the social pressures we all feel to be civil to each other, to check in with each other.

The silence was a container. The structure allowed us to dive into our work, our words, and our worlds.

Our silence was companionable. We were not alone, even as we went on our solitary journeys.

Out of that silence and that structure came, for me, the way through my writing project. I had begun it before I went to SAS, but I wasn’t making the progress I wanted to. I had so many thoughts, but I had never taken the time to focus solely on my thoughts about this project and to start to flesh out the scope of what I wanted to say.

On Sunday morning, we left silence behind. We spent that day speaking what we’d written into the circle of fellow writers.

For me, without the silence, I would have had nothing to say.