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Listening for Voices by Rochelle Melander

0894-DSC_0178-001Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up on rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. —Margaret Chittenden

On Saturday, I attended a mystery writing conference (MWA-University). Sara Paretsky spoke about how her best books emerged from fallow periods, when she had the time to listen for the voices of her characters.

In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle wrote about the value of listening to our work:

And sometimes when we listen, we are led into places we do not expect, into adventures we do not always understand. (p. 22)

I’ve written repeatedly about how writers need idle time to develop their ideas. Lately, I’ve become aware of how little time I have to simply be idle. It’s a rare moment when I’m not working, writing, talking, texting, coaching, caring, teaching, reading, watching, or surfing. And when I do have a free moment, I tend to use it to check one of my digital devices. I’m not alone. Consider these stats:

+The average user checks their phone 110 times a day.

+Americans spend 16 minutes of every hour on social networks.

+Americans spend 11 hours a day with digital media.

L’Engle, writing in the late 70s before the onset of the digital life, said it like this:

When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening. (Walking on Water, p. 13)

Writers, if you’re struggling to find new ideas, develop your story, hear a character’s voice, describe a setting, or simply get words on paper, you might need some idle time. Turn off your devices and try:

+Taking a walk


+Riding in a train or bus

+Sitting still

+Chopping vegetables


A final word of advice: Keep pen and paper close by, in case the muse—or your next protagonist—speaks to you!


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