How Listening Helps You Write


Today I had that conversation again, the one where an acquaintance admits they’ve been reading books on how to write but making no headway. I like books on writing, to an extent, but they aren’t for everybody.

Today, in the safe confines of a dentist office, I looked at a gracious and brilliant professional woman and lowered my voice. “Most of those books are written by  people who thrive on visual communication. Personally, I grew up in an oral culture. I write by listening.”

She related. We can both reproduce a lecture in beautiful notes. We both talk to ourselves around the house. We both think out loud even in silence.

I told her the secret to writing when you learn by ear: practice a little each day listening to yourself. Write what you hear. In time, your intuition will become more clear, and you’ll find the thread of story you need to tell.

What I didn’t say today was that I stole this method of listening from Christian monasticism. The Rule of Benedict begins with “obsculta,” a type of heart-deep listening.

Obsculta is the heart-deep way one listens to a spiritual father or mother. It’s also the way for us to hear the loving God speaking in our hearts. We need this listening like a garden needs water, deep and daily.

Every writer can benefit from writing every day, but it’s absolutely vital to the Listeners among us. Just as we grow in trust with a friend who listens to us often, Listeners grow to trust the grace given them when they listen deeply each day.

What’s your favorite time of day for deep listening?


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