I once spoke with a sculptor about how she works. “I get this idea in my head,” she told me. “I’ll start sketching it in my notebooks, trying to imagine what it will look like and what materials I’ll need, even how and where I want it to be seen. Then I’ll get to my studio and I’ll try making it. A lot of what I make fails, doesn’t work for some reason. But if I’m lucky and I listen well enough to the conversation between my imagination and the materials, I’ll start to see how it will look and how I will build it.”
That last sentence, the one about listening to the conversation between her imagination and the materials, helped me re-frame one of the core challenges I face as a writer: how do I engage readers in ways that make it possible for them to listen to what I am trying to say?
After hearing this sculptor speak of her process, I started to wonder if I needed to be listening more closely to the materials I was collecting, rather than forcing them to conform to my preconceptions. I decided to start interrogating my research, asking what surprised me, what I was learning, and how that might reshape what I hoped to communicate.
When I first started this practice, I felt like I was muzzling a part of myself. But then I noticed I was having a lot more fun; I was learning a lot more; and people were responding differently to my writing. They were more curious, generous, and open-minded.
To be heard, it seems, I first had to start listening. I won’t pretend that this listening is an easy practice. But when I embrace it, I think my writing is better, and so am I.
Newsletter Editor, Antioch Virtual Writing Center
This piece was originally published in the April 2017 VWC Newsletter