Saturday, August 28, 2010

On Writing and Listening, Thanks to Suzie

The writer gleans wind scraps; he listens wherever he can. Each day is full of instances." --Nicholas Delbanco
She escapes the invisible fence once again and sets out to accompany me on my walk. Oh, bother. She's harmless enough as she patters along, tail up, nose sniffing, nails clip-tick, clip-ticking against the asphalt. But she has become a pest--and an endangerment--to herself, drivers, me.

She's a nice-looking dog--marbled coat, muscular haunches, floppy ears. She wears a gold collar. I guess that's where the (dead?) battery is stored.

Pant, pant. She trots ahead. One front paw turns inward. A zig here, a zag there, and a car swerves around her. A noise distracts, and she jumps into the grass--only to dart right back on the pavement. This time an oncoming car comes to a complete stop to avoid hitting her. I shrug my shoulders, lift my palms, and mouth the words, "Sorry, she's not my dog." And then, in my most commmanding voice, I tell her, "Go home, dog. Go home. Now."

But she ignores me. She's not a very good listener.

The next time I learn her name. A truck pulls over and the driver gets out. "Here, Suzie," the young man says. He nods in my direction. "She's not mine," he explains, "but I know where she lives. I'll take her home." And he corrals the wayward dog, hooks a leash to her collar, and puts her in his truck. As he drives off, dear Suzie hangs her head out the passenger-side window like she's having the time of her life.

I come upon the owner's house as the Good Samaritan unloads her. She immediately--you guessed it--heads for the road. The GS calls, "Suzie, come back!" And, of course, she doesn't. You see, she really isn't a very good listener.

We're going to have to do something about Suzie--starting, I suppose, with a call to the owner. I sure hope he listens better than his dog does.

In the meantime, Suzie teaches me a lesson. I've come to realize that I need to improve my listening skills, too. Especially as a writer. For we writers need to keep our ears open for sounds, speech patterns, voices and snatches of conversation that will add color, depth, interest and believability to our work. It takes a conscious effort, better habits--and a desire to tune in to, not out of, our worlds.

My goals for the upcoming week include work in this area--listening exercises, prompts, attempts to better capture the snatches and scraps of good details that come my way, and record them before they get lost.

Oh, and try to get Suzie and/or her owner to listen to me!

What listening tips, goals--or great snatches of conversation--have tickled your ear lately?

"Writers look and listen, and they see and hear relationships...Writers need to learn to listen."
--Judy Delton, The 29 Most Common Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them


  1. One of the best ways I find to listen is to make up my mind to keep my mouth shut unless absolutely necessary. I remind myself to focus on the other person and just listen, don't formulate a comment. Just listen. It is a good skill to cultivate. Thanks for the post!

  2. That's why I'm never bored! I can easily assimilate into eaves dropping and totally not feel bad because it's always chalked up to research. ;)

  3. I love how you create a beautiful post from your daily experience! This post is just lovely!