If you become a listener, I guarantee you will become a better writer by simply becoming more aware of your surroundings.
Writing is only 10% execution. The rest of it is strategy. And one big part of writing strategy is listening. Too many writers are focused on the wrong things.
When I started, I spent a lot of time looking at what other writers did. I looked at their websites, social media, and the stuff they wrote about. If I wasn’t doing that, I was probably looking at my stats.
As if looking at the number of weekly new subscribers will make it grow faster. If that was the case, I would have 100 million subscribers now. It’s a waste of your time. And if you keep wasting your time like that, who says you’re not wasting the reader’s time?
Writing is not about what you write
A guy once said to me: “I’m doing everything you’re doing. Why am I not getting the same results?”
It’s not what you write. It’s how you write. I can write about the same topics as Seth Godin, but I don’t have the same background. How I write is different. 10 people can talk about the same topic, but every person has a different way of expressing themselves.
You and I can easily spot which ones are fake and which ones are real. You just have to read a few sentences and you’ll go, “Yeah, right.” And then you move on. Right? We all do it.
Now, why is it that you forget that when you write? Other people will have the same mindset when they read your stuff. Every time I sit down to write, I picture you.
Obviously, I can’t picture you exactly, but at least I think of someone a bit skeptical. I need to be absolutely certain of what I write. Otherwise, you will call me out by simply discarding my writing.
Most writers are afraid of criticism or other people calling them out. That’s nonsense. People who actually take the time to hate on your work are idiots. No, you should be afraid of the people who just walk away. That’s the biggest threat to a writer: A reader who doesn’t care.
Listening is everything
So how can you avoid that? How can you write something that catches people’s attention? Something that resonates with people?
Start becoming aware of things that actually matter. Listen to your friends, family, spouse, readers, and yourself.
See yourself as a researcher who’s studying mankind. And if you think that’s too broad, only study your particular subject. Maybe that’s the underground poker scene in NYC. Or maybe the online fans of K-Pop bands. Whatever lights a fire inside of you.
This works for fiction and non-fiction. The better you observe the details of daily life, the better you can explain them. This quote from Hemingway says it all:
“I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
Now you’re probably thinking, “How do I listen better?” There’s no such thing. You are either a listener, or you’re not. I wasn’t one. And then I became one. It’s that simple!
It starts with a decision. “I’m going to be a listener from now on.” Just don’t become a listener of your own voice! Listen to what people say and do.
Ask a question. Then, listen to the answer. Repeat the process.
That’s all! You can do this for every piece of writing; whether that’s an article, book, or a simple email. Ask something like, “What are your thoughts?”
And then notice what people are actually saying. Stay away from the overly optimistic and pessimistic messages. That’s why a lot of people don’t like social media. It’s either the best thing ever or the worst thing ever!
Extreme stuff is not useful. So when you go on social media, discard about 99% of the comments. Listen to the considerate people. The ones who leave balanced responses.
You see, writing is not complicated. I’ve been teaching writing for a few years now and my students are always surprised by how simple my strategy is. It’s mostly research, creating your own style, using simple rules, and listening!
So what do you think? It’s time to do some listening.