There’s an adage that says you have two ears and one mouth – use them in those proportions.
Sound advice, you might say, but us writers have our pens and word processors. We often have an audience who like our words, which is why we write for them. We talk to them too on social media, through newsletters, and at events.
Writers have something to say, something they want to bring to the world, whether it’s to entertain, raise awareness or change opinions. Who knows where this urge comes from? Maybe we spent too much time alone as children, being ignored or afraid to raise our voices.
I spent my time reading, which is a solitary activity. Like writing, ironically. But both sides of the coin involve imagination, the excitement of exploring new worlds, learning something new – often about ourselves.
It’s difficult to learn without listening. When you read, the author’s words are talking to you, giving you information, laughter, insights. You take them in, listening in your mind. Sometimes these words strike a chord and move you.
“Don’t let your failures define you.”
That gave me a jolt. The words struck deep, tapping into some dark corner of my subconscious where I hid feelings that had the power to unsettle and undermine me.
Is that how I defined my life – by my failures?
Once I’d read those words, there was no going back. I’d listened. I was speechless, aware that I’d made a discovery that could change the way I viewed life and me.
That’s how powerful words can be, whether written or spoken.
I’d like to think the words were significant to the author who wrote them. She couldn’t have realised the effect they would have on me, but she spoke and I listened.
In case you’re wondering, it was Cheryl Bradshaw in Hush Now, Baby, and you can read my review of this terrific novel here.
As an author, you should also listen to the comments readers and reviewers leave about your books. You learn fast that not everyone likes your books. How could they? If you could please everyone on the planet, you’d be a wealthy genius, right?
But you should still listen to those who don’t like your style. They could be pointing up areas you need to improve, mistakes you could avoid in future.
Like my school reports used to say, ‘Could do better.’
That’s why I love editing and revising my novels. When you write, you’re telling a story. When you revise and edit, you’re listening to what you said. If you stumble over a sentence when you read, it needs improving. If something feels wrong, it is wrong.
Sometimes, those little niggles speak so quietly you can miss them.
Listen hard, listen closely.
That’s how I’ve spent the last few weeks in Crouch Corner, revising and polishing my Kent Fisher mystery #4, No More Lies. I cut around 20,000 words to make it sharper, fresher and as smooth as I could. I listened to every sentence, every word almost.
Then I put the finished novel on my Kindle and read it as a reader.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story, but still found quite a few areas to improve. Sometimes the rhythm of a sentence or line of dialogue wasn’t right. One minor character underwent a name change.
Then a blogger read it and found more things I needed to put right.
That’s an awful lot of listening, which makes me wonder if the old adage is correct.
Writers may have plenty to say, but I suspect we listen more than we realise.
So, tell me what you think. I’d love to hear from you.