Tag Archives: advice for writers

Advice for a Writer? SHUT UP!

You got it: Shut TF Up when you’re networking and cocktail-partying and otherwise socializing with strangers.

Here’s why: Your job is to learn about human beings and translate their behavior and thinking and wackiness and wonderfulness and joys and sorrows and boredom and humor and pain and ecstasy and fear and anger and all that into the written word.

Your job is not to tell everyone you meet all about yourself.

The problem is, if you really are a writer or if you’re trying really hard to be a writer, you’re spending uncountable hours in your garret, laboring over a keyboard or a notebook. You are, in a word, lonely.

Lonely people get hungry for other people’s company. They get hungry for conversation. They long to tell someone else, anyone else, all the things they haven’t spoken in the past week, the past month, maybe even the past year. When you’re lonely, one of the symptoms is a deep craving to tell all.

Every tiny detail of all.

I’ve been there myself, yakking away til all of a sudden I realize my mouth has been going nonstop and no one around me has had a chance to say a word.

Right now two of my friends are in that mode: yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity oh please stop yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity excuse me… yakity yakity yakity really I… yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity I’m sorry but I… yakity yakity yakity yakity it’s been wonderful talking with yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity but I’ve got to get home and yakity yakity yakity yakity let the dogs yakity yakity yakity yakity out before they yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity shit all over the freaking floor!

It’s not just that this trait is boring and tendentious and maybe even rude. It’s that when you’re in the I’m so lonely I can’t stop talking mode you’re abdicating your job.

Your job is to listen to people, not to talk at them.

The trick is to come loaded with questions: the kind of questions that elicit stories from the people you meet:

That must have been an exciting time for you.
That must have been a difficult time for you.
What was the most rewarding experience you had as a rock climber?
What was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you as a police SWAT team member?
What was the funniest thing that happened while you were a grade-school camp counselor?

When did you realize your calling in life was to become a pole dancer?

The answers are the stuff of novels. It’s the stuff of writing. And when you ask people to tell you about themselves — instead of you telling them all about yourself — they love you. Suddenly, you’re popular!

Don’t talk at people: listen to them.
Don’t show off for people: watch them.

Pay attention. These folks are your bread and butter.

If you’re feeling lonely, go someplace where the whole point is to help people get over being lonely, or at least to let them yak. Join a focus group. Join a church. Better yet, join a church choir. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Join a book discussion club. Take up with a hiking or bicycling group. Become a Democrat. Whatever it is, make yourself UN-lonely for a few hours a week.

You need that time away from your garret, to be a better human being and to learn more about other human beings. But whatever you decide to do…

Shut up.