Tag Archives | listening

Talking Your Story To Death

Mouth_surprising_open_268839_l Have you ever talked about a story so much that you then could never write it?

I have. 

When I was a newer writer, this happened to me several times.  Sometimes it was in one-on-one conversation, but mostly it happened in a critique group I attended.  I loved that critique group, adored the people in it and enjoyed our weekly meetings.  But, looking back, I think we just talked too damn much.  I was working on a novel then and I never was able to pull it together, though I got about three-quarters of the way through.

Talking about it took all the energy from it.

Of course, I now belong to a different critique group which is no less amazing.  And we talk and talk and talk, too.  So what's the difference?  Why was I able to finish my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, and feel satisfied with it, whereas before I couldn't? 

Perhaps it has to do with confidence.  In this group, when people talk about something that isn't working, I'm able to take that criticism and figure out my own solution to it.  Before, I'd always do exactly what the others' said, even when I knew it wasn't right, because I lacked confidence.  As I ponder this, it also has to do with confidence in the collective wisdom of the group, as well as myself.

Still, I've learned not to talk too much about my work.  When people ask me what the novel is about, I give them a vague answer.  Now that is it finished, I don't have to be quite so protective.  In truth, I need to be less protective and figure out a decent elevator pitch, so I don't find myself opening and closing my mouth and saying, "Um, well, it's about this woman….and she goes to LA…and…" By that time my questioner is so bored she is walking away from me.

But when a work is in progress, I find it beneficial to me not to talk about it too much.  I've finally learned just to tell people that.  When they ask me what my novel that I'm working on is about, I answer, "I've learned not to talk too much about my work while it is in progress, because it sucks the life out of it."

People generally respect this, perhaps because it sounds very writerly and somewhat mysterious.  Well, the creative process is mysterious, isn't it?  And we learn what works for each of us only by engaging in it.

I'm a bit in awe of all the writers on Twitter who happily gab away about their works in progress.  They even tweet lines from their writing and others comment.  Laurell K. Hamilton, best-selling author of the Anita Blake series, tweets constantly about her characters and what they are doing.  Part of me wishes I could do this because it seems so natural to all of them.  But I've learned that I can't.

So, do tell.  What works for you?  Do you talk about your writing in progress?  Have you ever talked a book to death?

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Listening or Waiting to Talk?

One of the best tools a writer can learn is the art of listening.  Actually, learning to listen is a useful tool for any human, period.  I spent the weekend in a workshop with people who had varying degrees of skills in listening, which has had me pondering the subject.

As my good and wise friend (and leader of the workshop) Mary-Suzanne pointed out, most of us spend time waiting to talk instead of actually listening.  I’ve watched other people do this and I know that I myself do it all the time–and I pride myself in being a good listener.

Instead of actually listening and taking in what the other person is saying, our minds race.  We start formulating what we want to say in return, or cataloging all the similar experiences that we have had so that we can talk about them when the other person shuts up.  Or maybe we worry that we don’t have anything to say, or that we’ll be expected to have something to say and nothing will come out.  We worry about what we look like or maybe we’re even worrying about something we did before the current conversation.

If we’re not worrying about ourselves, we may well be judging the person we are supposedly listening to.  We judge the speed of their delivery, or think dire thoughts about the awful outfit they have on.  We judge the funny expressions they make as they talk.  Or the way they are shredding their napkin as they speak.

But all of this is worrying and judging, not listening. 

Why does listening matter to a writer?

Because writers need to observe the world and everything and everyone in it in order to gather material.  Writers need to listen to conversations of others to obtain an ear for dialogue and how people interact with each other.  We need to listen to others in order to understand what it is to be human.  Because, after all, that is what writing is all about–describing the human condition.

So start schooling yourself in the art of listening.  How to do this is a bit harder to describe than telling people they should do this, I will admit.  A quick search of the internet netted mostly descriptions for college students listening to instructors lecture.  But this site seems to have some good advice about interpersonal listening.

The gist of it, of course, is staying present and not letting all your mental chatter distract you, whether that mental chatter is worrying about yourself or judging the speaker.  You might just be surprised what happens when you start listening deeply to the world around you.

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