Why Should We Learn to Listen?

cute kitten-and-dog
As we start counting down to the Christmas and New Year holidays, I’ve been thinking about when I first began my journey as a writer. I was seventeen and the first short story I wrote and sent to a publisher was full of the eagerness of youth (and, thankfully, it was lost long ago).

Unfortunately, it was also full of clichés and trite plot points … and more than a few outright “groaners” for dialogue. In my eagerness to write stories and send them out into the world I neglected one very important thing: building a credible story.

My eagerness was met with rejections – lots of them.

I needed to become not only a better writer, but a better storyteller to get anyone to want to read what I had written, and that meant revisions on top of revisions. But, in order to know how to revise my writing, I had to learn to listen.

Listen to Your Critique Group
Every author’s got them. Beta readers. These are the folks we always let see our work long before anyone else does. Indie authors may have more than most, because we have such a need for – even though we don’t always want – constructive feedback.

I’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful people in my life who never fail to give me honest criticism. Their comments aren’t meant to soothe my ego. They’re meant to help me write.

For instance, long ago I listened when they told me my character descriptions were either too short, or too detailed, long and boring. They said I either left everything or absolutely nothing to their imaginations and, as a result, they couldn’t relate to any of the characters in my stories.

I also had an early reader tell me “Nobody talks that way” when they were commenting on my dialogue. Listening to their feedback made me dig deeper to make my descriptions, and the conversations of my characters, more succinct and believable.

I also heard them say “you don’t let me see the story … because you’re constantly telling me what I should be seeing.” So I borrowed the advice repeated in Stephen King’s book “On Writing” and got rid of the useless adverbs cluttering the pages.

Last year, one of the Readers Favorite reviewers made this comment about some of my recent work: “Herron is a master of the art of character development.” Another commented that my “characters come to life on the pages.”

I owe those positive comments not only to decades of practice, but to some of that earliest feedback. It keeps me focused and I will always be grateful I paid attention.

Listen to Other Authors
If you want to write a mystery series, it helps to be a fan of mysteries. Most writers know that writing begins with reading, but some don’t actually take it to heart, and many don’t realize you need to do it the proper way.

To learn, you can’t just read it as a general reader would. You have to read it as a writer and really “listen” to the way that particular author tells the story. Listen not only to the words, but the phrasing, the meter and tempo.

If you find it enjoyable to the point of suspending belief in the real world while you’re engrossed in it, then go to your own stories and see if they sound the same way to you. It might help you see if your story is falling short.

Listen to Yourself
As you’re learning and taking advice from many sources, don’t forget to be true to yourself. You don’t always have to take everyone’s suggestions. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do to stand your ground and defend what you’ve written.

But remember, standing your ground about anything you’ve written can only be done properly if you’ve first taken the time to really listen to what people have been saying.

Listen to Reviews
When your book is finally published, whether traditionally or indie, lots of people will have lots of things to say about it. Some may be good. You can usually count on some of your friends for that, even if they’re stretching the truth.

Some may be not so good. Most of your detractors, and a few real friends, will fall into that group. Listen to them all and glean what you can from it. Use every bit of feedback as a learning experience for your next project.

Don’t be overly enthused by good comments, and don’t be distressed by negative ones. The reviews of your present book will teach you things that will make your next book even better.

Finding the Best Beta Readers
Being forced to rewrite what you’ve struggled to write can be painful at times, but it’s the only way your writing will ever improve. If you don’t already have a good supply of beta readers, look to your writer friends. Network with them and offer your help and support.

Making friends with other writers (and readers) is a long-term investment in your writing career.

The best way to approach people is to make genuine friendships. Don’t “check them out” to see if they might make a good beta reader, or help in some other way, before you make friends. People can tell if you’re using them.

The Best Advice I Ever Received
Be patient and generous. Help others if you have the skill and time, even if they might never be able to pay you back. That has value in and of itself.

Trust me … it’s a worthwhile thing to do, it can make you feel good and lift your spirits. And sometimes the most surprising things come back to you, in a good way, well into the future.




Coming Soon! An interview with indie author M.S. Fowle!



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2 Responses to “Why Should We Learn to Listen?”

  1. benzeknees Says:

    The first time I read a book, I read it for enjoyment. If I really enjoyed the book, then I go back a second time & look at it as a writer would look at it: how has the author made his/her characters believable, how did the author help me envision the setting, etc. I love Stephen King books. I think his character development is awesome. By the time I finish one of his books I feel like I really know a character & often hate to let them go. So I often re-read King books looking especially at his character development.


    • Ron Herron Says:

      Most of the books I enjoy I’ve read multiple times. A lot of people don’t care for some of the subjects Stephen King writes about, but I would dismiss anyone who said the man doesn’t know how to write. His character development is indeed awesome. Thanks for the comment.


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