Why writers must listen

All writers must be good listeners.

They must listen to the other without interrupting, without imposing themselves, without guiding the other’s train of thought.

Later, they cannot tell. They cannot tell the specific stories of others.

Yet, tell they must.

When they tell the stories, those stories must undergo a transformation and be unrecognizable.

The reader must find every person in the one person’s story and no one person in any story.

All good  writers have to be selfless.

Their personality cannot interfere with nor interrupt the train of thought of the other. There is nothing so sacrilegious as to interrupt the other’s story and nothing so terrible as to be judgemental.

Being judgemental is imposition and imposition will surely squeeze out the other’s story.

All writers have to have empathy.

They have to be able to put themselves in the other’s  shoes and feel what they feel, fear what they fear, be moved by what they are moved by.

Unless one can lose oneself in another person’s thoughts, one can never be a storyteller.

And yet, one cannot lose oneself completely.

For after listening, when one comes back from the other person’s life one has to find one’s own.

One’s own life. One’s own self. One’s own story.

For it is the writer who writes the other’s life.

There are those who cannot lose themselves. They cannot write.

And there are those who get lost completely in the other. They only know how to lose themselves and forget how to come back.

These storytellers find out, the hard way, that it is the last stage, the coming back to one’s self from the other’s life, that is the hardest, the most difficult. That requires discipline, that requires resisting temptation, that requires detachment.

The losing is the easy part. The finding of the self most difficult.

And then, once one is back, to have found oneself, to remember the time one was lost in another’s life? To miss that freedom of selflessness, that lightness of being, that joy of not being held back, of being one with another, of being part of another’s story? To live with that loss?

To simply come back to the cage of words, of sentences, of paragraphs, of conventions? Of writing?

To have to live with all that?

That is the most difficult challenge of all.

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65 thoughts on “Why writers must listen”

  1. Well said, bottledworder! (Great blog name as well, even if it was your 3rd choice.) Thanks for stopping by the Clearly Conveyed Communications blog and checking out my guest blogging invite. I hope you’ll be back! I like what I see on your blog and am looking forward to further enjoying your content.

    Cheers,
    Jaime

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  2. All good writers must first listen and must be selfless. Sage advice. One question: what is the story one is telling is one’s own? Poetry, memoir, creative non fiction– genres that breath right out of our own lungs. Isn’t the craft then learning to listen to oneself?
    Thanks for stopping in at my blog and following along with the publication of my book. (A memoir…no less :-)–M.

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  3. Ah nice post here.

    As word-smiths, we do have the power to achieve such. But if we push away the “supporters” of our works , we return to just nothing.

    Only real issue with this is… The movement of stories. If a twist or a plot appears, it could dis-please the readers. But, in doing so, it excites their emotions and would be able to draw them in more. Double dagger effect.

    Keep up the work, I’ll be visiting here from time to time.

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  4. Wow, this is an incredible piece of writing and wisdom sharing! Hauntingly poetic. It is very true that there is such a powerful, frightening temptation sometimes to remain and get lost in the story…the coming back never gets easier, no matter how many times that path is traveled.

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  5. I am wondering how writers can stow their personalities at the door when they write, if that’s what you mean. I think all writers filter the world through their personalities (while striving to be nonjudgmental). Otherwise, words may just as well be written by automatons, don’t you think?

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  6. This was so incredible and true! Often as writers, we sit back on the sidelines and watch… listen… observe, and then when we write those tales… we become them. It really was beautifully put together!

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  7. Fascinating as usual… and the comments… the one sentence that didn’t resonate with me was your reference to the cage of words… for me they are the golden threads to play with and savour and explore until the right word comes that one knew was there all along, and all the others were just substitutes, and didn’t have that zing of recognition, of perfect rightness…
    And that I find is what is so energising about writing… that feeling of achievement and fulfillment…not putting this very well, so had better stop!

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  8. Thank you for visiting me at City Jackdaw. I liked your comment in ‘About’ how you pressed your own ‘like’ button to try it out. When I first started I got my first follower-wahoo..drum roll…who was it? It was me, quite by accident. City Jackdaw was being followed by City Jackdaw. You gotta start somewhere.

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  9. This is great – listening is key if you are going to hear anything at all. And as writers we have to listen first, before we write. Thanks for the post! Oh, and thanks for the Like on “I pinch Myself”.

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  10. Beautiful. It is true that the easy part is to lose oneself in another and then you face coming back, finding yourself in another’s forest as the most difficult. ❤

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  11. At first I wondered if this only applied to fiction, but on second reading I can see it applies to all writing. We all need to listen and get lost in others stories before we find our own.

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  12. This is something I have yet to experience but I can see that it is true, although I don’t fully understand it yet. Becoming a writer is a long journey. It’s taken me 21 years of writing to fully grasp even that simple fact. Maybe I’m a slow learner so maybe it will take me longer than others but that’s OK because I am learning now. I’m learning to lose myself, to listen and be selfless, to not be in control because I’m not. It isn’t my story. It never was. And I can see that at some point I will lose myself and have to fight to bring myself back. It happens, sometimes, when reading. There’s a difficulty adjusting to reality, a resistance to it. And if that happens in a world that someone else holds the key to, how much more will it happen when it’s the world you’re the most intimate with because it came to you? I can recognise that, acknowledge it as likely, but I can’t yet feel it to be true. One day, I will.

    This comment has been all about me. I apologise for that. It’s because your words resonated so deeply with me that I couldn’t not respond and share my own experience. But believe me when I say, if I believed in God, I would thank Him for leading me to your blog. It’s an island of thought-provoking, well-written truth in a sea of trivial, self-obsessed waste. And I count my own blog in that sea. (Just look at this comment for proof!) I have a lot to learn from you. So thank you.

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    1. Wow! I don’t know what to say! Thank you. Still absorbing that last paragraph but please don’t call yourself “self-obsessed waste”! We’re all “waste” floating in this sea which would have been lifeless without us!

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  13. Your writing is so magical to read. First time i read for the pure joy of it,second time to get the  meaning..Lessons I take are
    All writers must be good listeners.–    Else how will you present others stories.I  wish  i could be  more patient.
    All good  writers have to be selfless.–Its important to get over our prejudices else it will be your story not  the persons story you want to tell.
    Wish the lessons stay in my head for long. A great post.

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  14. I watched a trailer for a movie about “finding one’s self” and there was a quote I loved: “Why am I so fucking scared of myself?” I was like, WOW. Yes, exactly.

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  15. Beautifully put, I love this. Good writers listen and observe for sure! And this is so true that we must be able to come back to ourselves and write what we know and see with clarity from our own mind and perspective. Great truth about writing. Thanks for this!

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    1. Great question. I’m wondering–perhaps this applies in different ways to memoir and fiction but perhaps it also applies to articles and essays if you stretch it a bit. Have to think this one through.

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      1. I interpreted your post as a writer of fiction. It’s THAT world I want to lose myself in–so much that tonight I’m doing a photography shoot re-creating a scene from my next novel. We’ll see how long it take me to come down from that!

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  16. Well, this is just amazing! I was trying to formulate a similar thought in a piece yesterday, but due to allergies, my brain is mush. You are the post I read everyday. Thanks for sharing such great thoughts!

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  17. So true. We also have to “listen” to the voices in our heads–the characters’ voices clamoring to be heard and to be expressed how they would express their pain or joys. Sadly, this is a lesson I have to learn over and over. My training ground is listening to people talk about their lives without editing or interrupting.

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  18. A writer friend of mine and I were just talking about this idea the other day, of “losing oneself” in another’s story. How do you know when to come back to yourself? What if you don’t WANT to come back? And then when you do, to feel that contrast, even if your own story has a beauty of its own? Unquestionably the hardest part. Thank you for articulating that challenge.

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    1. The life of the imagination vs. drab reality. “The desire of the moth for the star/ Of the night for the morrow/ The devotion to something afar/ From the sphere of our sorrow.” 🙂
      [Quoted from memory. Too lazy to google. So a word might be off here and there from the poem]

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