The Fine Art of Listening

The life of a writer is a solitary profession. We do a lot sitting. We do a lot of thinking. And for the most part we’re pretty internal people because there’s a story and/or stories rolling around in our heads. Most of the time, I’m right where I want to be in this crazy world of character, plot and setting. Other times, I like—or maybe I’m forced—to put myself out there. But when I do, I discover I’m like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz and I need a product like motor oil to sync my brain with my mouth to have a comprehensible and/or enjoyable conversation.

I find leaving my office is often exhausting and challenging because, again, I’ve mostly been doing a lot of sitting…and thinking… and my communication skills as well as my social skills have lain dormant.

One of the funniest comments I’ve ever heard at a conference was when the speaker stood at the podium, glanced around and said, “Oh, look at this room full of introverts trying to be extroverts.”

I also think that sometimes people who work at solitary jobs are so relieved to see fellow human beings they overcompensate. Like a castaway on a desert island.

Have you ever been at a function where someone talked at you, not to you? The quickest way to make me long for my writing desk is to have someone monopolize the conversation where all they talk about is me me me. When that happens, and I realize I know everything about him and he knows nothing about me, I’m suddenly not a fan of that person. Further, you can bet your sweet keyboard I’m going to venture far from him the next time I see him coming.

Just as we’ve learned craft and we’ve learned to write, we’ve learned social skills over the years. But I think social skills take just as much practice as writing. Just as in public speaking, if you do it often, you improve. If you don’t practice you become tongue-tied, awkward and uncomfortable.

Gossip girl eavesdropping with hand to ear. Woman overhearing listening to rumors. Spying and secret concept. Instagram filter.

Ask yourself this: if you’re in a social setting, and someone is talking, do you tune him/her out just waiting for what you’re going to say next? If you do, you might have lost the ability to listen. And when it comes to developing social skills, listening is at the top of the social chain.

Part of why we write romance is we love relationship stories. In our books our characters listen, and if they don’t, conflict arises. Maybe we should take a lesson from our books.