Writers — Listen Up

We could all be better listeners.

Here’s a theory: the best writers are also the best listeners.

In order to tell better stories, maybe one of the most important things we can do is listen better to the stories being told all around us. On TV. On the radio. In real face-to-face conversations.

I know of a handful of writers who are not good listeners. They always manage to turn every conversation back onto themselves. They’re unwilling to listen thoroughly to the opinions of other people.

It’s not that they’re bad writers. But their writing is extremely limited — at least compared to what it would be if they learned to listen better to what others have to say.

In order to tell stories about a wider diversity of people, with a broader range of thoughts and opinions, it’s not enough to listen to the creative voices in your own head. I think it’s important to expose yourself to thoughts, ideas, and opinions from both like-minded individuals and those you disagree with.

But what if we didn’t just try to listen better — but more enthusiastically, too? What if we actually got excited when our friends come to us with a story to tell? What if we set time aside every day to listen to podcasts, or audiobooks — without using them as background noise?

Would we become better writers? I’d like to think so.

I spend all day every day looking at screens, reading and writing as part of my job. I love it. But the biggest thing that has changed since I started doing that is that I don’t always feel like reading — especially on a screen — when I’m not at work. Sometimes, I just want to sit and listen.

But in doing this, I’m learning new things every day. I’m gaining new perspectives on issues I wasn’t even aware I should be paying attention to. I’m hearing the voices of people who have different opinions than me. I’m taking in information that interests and often inspires me — and though I don’t always act immediately on the impulse, it often makes me want to write stories unlike anything I’ve written before.

And that has made me a better listener in conversations, too. I’m actually interested in hearing someone explain their side of an issue, even if I don’t agree with it. Maybe we’ll always disagree — but knowing where they’re coming from, it might come in handy someday. After all, at least a handful of the characters we write about and the dialogue we assign them is based off of people and conversations we’ve had in real life, right?

If you only ever write about what you know now, your one-sided opinions, your way of doing things — you’re never going to write anything interesting.

Listen. Listen to everyone and everything. Take away from it what you will, but at least make the effort. You’ll see and understand much more of the world that way.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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