Being a good listener is not always easy. Between real world and online connections, there are a lot of voices coming at us these days. Even if we have time to spare, remaining focused on what is being said in any conversation is challenging.
Experts say that the key to being a good listener is to tend to the task wholeheartedly. This means focusing on a speaker's message while trying to withhold immediate judgement. This also means paying attention to any post-intellectual, psychological, or physical reactions we may have in response to what is being said. Listen first. Judge, react, respond, later.
How might this be applied to our writing practice?
Writing is a creative process, so it stands to reason that all writers have an inner source of creative energy. This creative energy has a voice, one that can energize us as we move through the stages of the writing process should we choose to listen. Creative energy often manifests when we come across that which deeply resonates with us. It speaks to us when we feel inspired by another artist's work, albeit a piece of writing, music, or visual art. These resonating moments usually come without notice and require that we pay attention to them. Some moments are akin to the loud person in the room whose voice and words rise above all else. In this case, if you’ll excuse the Arthur Miller allusion, attention can’t help but be paid. But what about those moments that are more subtle? The soft spoken persons in the room also have something to say. Their words are equally worthy of our attention.
The art of listening in conversation requires fully focusing on what is being said, even if we are not entirely interested at a particular moment. It requires trying not to get stuck in our own heads as we ready a comeback or think about how we will share our own take on things while another’s voice is coming our way. For the writer who is fully engaged in the flow of creative inspiration, this means shutting down every doubt or inner-editorializing thought that might impede getting anything but the purest form of an idea down on the page. Much the same way you would ask yourself, “What might I learn from this person?" when engaging as a listener in a conversation, you should be asking yourself, “Where will this lead?” as you engage with your own creative ideas. Listen and let inspiration take hold of the conversation. Those of us who note, afterwards, the psychological, emotional, or intellectual thoughts inspired by such moments of inspiration may be rewarded by new works-in-progress to add to our portfolio of work.
Giving of our full attention to the voice of our creativity is not always easy. But it is worth the effort. Allow the moments when your creative energies unexpectedly speak to you to fuel your writing practice. Be available when your creative energies surprise you with a call. Carry a pen and paper, keep your phone charged and have your digital recorder and writing apps at the ready. Pay attention. And, always listen.