I’ve spent a lot of time walking on a track near my house this summer. It’s been lovely to get out and move. Often I pass other walkers—and more times than not, they have earbuds stuck in their ears with heads down, ignoring everything going on around them.
In fact, everywhere I go these days, it seems people are sporting earbuds. I understand listening to a podcast or music occasionally. But cutting off one sense, ignoring what’s going on around you is dangerous……especially for writers. And here’s why.
Effective writing, especially fiction and creative writing, requires that writers invoke all the senses of their readers. A good writer will employ a reader’s sight, touch, smell, taste, and yes, hearing. To do so, a writer must have a solid bank of personal experiences on which to draw.
Listening is one of the best—and I would say most important—ways to build that bank.
For instance, sitting in a train station in, let’s say, Mobile, Alabama, will teach an observant writer a lot about Southern dialect, about word choices, about inflection. The same experience would be quite different than in, say, Alberta, Canada. The language would sound different. The colloquialisms would be different. The emphases, the accents, the variations in words and pronunciations would be dramatically different.
This kind of listening, even subliminally, teaches writers. A good writer absorbs it, packs it away, savors it to call on when the literary need arises.
And beyond the human sounds, there are the mechanical sounds of a train station, the rustle of passengers, the clanging and banging of baggage transport, the squeal of wheels, the rumble of engines. Spinning around all those sounds is an amazing array of “color” that feeds the writer’s craft, that fills his or her toolbox, that informs and enriches a writer’s prose. Writers can and should draw from these quotidian life experiences; it is the difference between rich and poor writing.
But all of these sounds—these rich and descriptive sounds—are LOST to those who constantly fill their ears with I-Tunes.