ABC’s of Writing (for Beginners): L is for Listen

Posted by on Sep 27, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Maria_AuthorBioThe single best advice for any writer, at any stage, is to write. But then the question becomes, what does a writer do when she’s not writing?

If your answer is, eat sourdough pretzels while watching a shameful amount of TV shows on Netflix and crushing digital candies on Facebook, then perhaps the better question is: what should a writer be doing when she’s not writing?

For any lazy or procrastination-prone writer like myself, the answer should make you rejoice. It involves minimal physical effort, but engages your mind and intellect. And most importantly, it can – and should – generate a lot of writing material, whether you’re a poet, a novelist, memoirist or any other kind of writer.

My advice is simply: to listen.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” For writers, it’s even more imperative that we listen, because as a chronicler of human and emotional truths, the world is humming with stories for us to write, every day.

If you’re a novelist or non-fiction writer, listen to the way an embarrassed teenager snaps at her mother from behind the dressing room curtain. Listen to how your own mother speaks to you. How the cop in the donut self-consciously orders a donut. If he orders a donut. How two lovers quarrel through clench teeth in line at the movies. Listen to what they say… and to what they don’t say.

If you’re a poet, open your window to the cacophony of passing traffic. Listen to the constant drone of a construction site. The rumble of a garbage truck. To the private concerto the sparrows are performing in your backyard. To the nattering of the squirrel taunting the barking dog, stuck behind the sliding glass door.

Every writer should read their sentences aloud and listen to their rhythm. To the meter, to the poetry of the spoken word.

See how listening to your own words and the other words of others informs the ones you choose when you write. Is your dialogue more authentic now? Are your descriptions more visceral? Are your observations truer than they were before?

And finally, another very important of listening as a newer writer is to listen to other writers. Not only are your fellow writers the best resources for suggesting books, titles and publications that can help you in your work, they’re also valuable for feedback about your writing.

When it comes to critique, it may not always be easy to take in, and every fiber of your writing soul may thrash violently at their suggestions – What do you mean you don’t believe that would happen? It happen! – but listen anyway. Listen actively. Listen openly. Listen indiscriminately. Absorb their advice and comments in the spirit in which they were intended: to help you improve as a writer.

And know that whether you love or hate the feedback, or if you gleaned any insights into your characters by listening in on a random coffee shop convo, you won’t have to decide until later, when it’s just you and the blank page, what you choose to hear.


Maria Marmanides is a writer who lives in Los Angeles and Connecticut. When she’s not racking up air miles traveling coast-to-coast, she writes creative nonfiction essays and is at work on her first fictional novel. Maria received her MFA at Fairfield University and works as a marketing copywriter, where she makes up nonsense words and puns all day. ABC’s of Writing

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