Before writing, listen to your thoughts.

Charles Bukowski writing alone in his own little corner of the world.
Charles Bukowski writing alone in his own little corner of the world.

The other day I attended the funeral of a dear friend who had succumbed to cancer. Her son, daughter-in-law, and four year old grandson, Jackson, stood with me at the casket to say good-by. Jackson’s mother leaned down and said to him, “Do you want to say something to Grandmom?”

He uttered a few words, then looked at his mother and said, “I don’t think she’s listening.”

A powerful statement from a four year old. But it sparked a thought in my mind. In this world of noise and technological distraction, do we take time to listen to our thoughts? Or do we accept the bombardment of constant chatter, horns, whistles, sirens, blaring radios, and the constant drone of television as being just a part of life that we have to deal with?


Patricia La Vigne
Patricia La Vigne

As a writer, I have to pay attention to my thoughts and what they are telling me. They are the main source of inspiration for a new story or article, or just a few interesting sentences in a journal. I have to do what Jackson thought his grandmother didn’t do—listen.

We have all heard about writers of old working alone in a garret in their home. The rounded room generally found on Victorian homes was their “alone” place. Not many of us have such a room, but to find our own “alone” place certainly helps. It doesn’t guarantee that we’ll produce the great novel, but it’s a start.

What it can do is help us to sit back, ponder, and listen to the thoughts that come to mind. It helps us to get “lost” in our little world, let our imaginations take over and lead us to the scenes that will help us write our chapters. We can bring in the characters, listen to their dialogue, and get it on paper before the thoughts fly away.

“Writing” isn’t just putting words in the computer or on paper. “Writing” begins with an idea we want to develop. It is in the process of development that we really need to listen to our thoughts. Some people even vocalize their thoughts, so they hear what they sound like, and can adjust the wording accordingly to better fit the story. They are listening to what they want the reader to understand.

There is an episode of the old Dick Van Dyke comedy show where he wanted to write a book. His home was not conducive to being able to concentrate, so he went to a cabin in the woods. That was his “alone” place. He placed his typewriter on the table, rolled a sheet of typing paper in, and began to type.

Not satisfied with what he wrote, he pulled out the paper, wadded it up, and threw it in the basket. This happened repeatedly. Then he decided his pencils needed sharpening. He found excuses—one after another—not to write.

Of course, the show was funny, and I’m sure every writer identified with the frustration he was feeling. The one thing he didn’t do was to relax, and think. He couldn’t listen to his thoughts because he didn’t allow them to happen. We need to allow our thoughts and imagination take charge in developing our story.

Jackson’s statement really impressed me. I am reminded now to take time, let my mind settle, and really listen to what I want before hitting the keys to write that “great American novel.”

Patricia La Vigne is the author of Wind-Free.


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