Listening For The Truth

August 6, 2014 § 14 Comments

By Allison K Williams

Oliver Typewriter, known as the "Iron Butterfly" for the overhead strike motion of the type arms

Oliver Typewriter, known as the “Iron Butterfly” for the overhead strike motion of the type arms

In my head, real writers wake up, head to the typewriter, and happily pound away until their word count for the day is complete. Then, emotionally depleted but happy, they retire to the lounging sofa for the afternoon.

There’s something wrong with this picture. For starters, there’s a typewriter in it.

It’s also (based on every writer I know) completely inaccurate in every other way, too. A big lie that I’ve told myself.

Everyone sweats. Everyone slogs. Everyone feels alone and sad, and like they must not be a “real writer” because “real writers” have a different/superior/classic process.

I finished a memoir and got an agent and spent a month at loose ends. There was a lot of lounging sofa, but not a lot of word count.

I felt like a loser. Like I’d probably never write anything again. That was it, my last good idea, spent. And of course from there I shame-spiraled into the book will never sell the agent just felt sorry for me and now she and her interns spend Casual Fridays hoisting Oreo-tinis and reading out choice bits of my manuscript in funny voices. (Michelle, please don’t tell me if that’s true. Let an intern tell me.)

So I screwed up my courage and asked a writer I respect a lot, “What do you do after you’ve written a book?”

“Mooch around the internet, work in my garden, look out the window, and think about how I’ll never write anything else ever again.”


It’s not just me.

Know what?

It’s not just you, either.

There is no magic process that “real writers” do. You are a “real writer” when you write. You are still a “real writer” when you’re not writing, when you’re sitting and listening for words to come. Maybe your listening is taking long walks, or watching cat videos, or reading wonderful books you admire or reading trashy books that entertain you. For me, listening is hanging out on the lounging sofa and imagining a little room. I wait in the room, and my ideas are people coming to me with problems. I listen until someone shows up with a problem I want to solve.

I listen for the truth to show up, so I can tell it.

(P.S. I own the Oliver Typewriter above, and I sometimes turn it to the wall when I imagine it’s silently judging.)
Allison K Williams is Social Media Editor of Brevity. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor. She is also a freelance editor. She tweets @GuerillaMemoir.

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§ 14 Responses to Listening For The Truth

  • utahrob says:

    I needed that.

  • Pancho says:

    Oh, thank you!

  • Sally Ashton says:

    Thanks, Allison. Very timely, even if I haven’t just completed a book (I have; no agent for hybrids), but am simply casting around for the next idea. It’s the same stuff I tell myself, but it IS helpful to read it from someone else.

  • Love this post! No interns, no mockery, and no Oreo-tinis here–but that does sound like a smashing idea for a cocktail hour.

  • Thanks for this. It is always nice to know we aren’t alone on this adventure. Self-doubt seems to show up just to test our resolve.

    Violet Ingram
    Death by High Heels

  • As a writer with chronic migraine, I have never been able to maintain a strict schedule. I write when the pain isn’t too bad. So it’s wonderful to hear the reality behind the “you must write a solid five hours every day at the same time of day” pronouncements. Thank you.

  • I have been going through these up and downs myself while self-editing and revising my first novel. Sometimes I think I’m becoming bipolar as the process drags on and on. There are some days when I’m very confident in my work, and others where I feel like chances of finding an agent and getting published are minimal. Luckily, as I get nearer and nearer to my goal, the periods of self-doubt have been further and further apart.

  • I’ve been beating myself up for not churning out pages, but listening is exactly what I’m doing. Thanks for this post.

  • Bloodjay says:

    “The Book”, my third baby, is in formatting and there’s talk of chapter illustrations and layout decisions… and I’m just over here, like, “What am I going to do with my life come March? I won’t even be able to browse the Internet without thinking in that paranoid, procrastinator’s way; ‘Gosh, shouldn’t I be writing right now?'”
    (Which is a round about way of saying, Thank you for the Oreo-tini idea.)

  • Reading this has brought me to tears. And I’m a crusty, old broad. Nothing brings me to tears. I have felt so empty lately, and so very envious of those prolific writers who always seem to have projects going on every burner and ideas lined up behind those. I struggle my way from idea to idea, always convinced I’ll never have another, that I am a fraud, and sooner or later “they” will find that out. It’s exhausting. Thank you for posting this.

  • dandanhansen says:

    The daily word count. Mine is so random, and my garden so beautiful

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