Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hearing Myself Talk

Here’s a fun fact about writers: sometimes, we learn things as we write that we did not know before. We discover we believe something as the words form under our fingers, or we use the writing process to figure out why we believe something. Our own fictional heroes will say things that surprise and challenge us. We end up with an insight written on a page in our handwriting that we did not see coming.

Ask the nearest writer you can find if this is true. They’ll agree with me. I’m not crazy, honest.

Well, I still might be crazy. But not for that reason.

This week, I was working with a character who did not want to talk about her family or her past or anything remotely related to herself. And I learned something.

That was an extremely easy goal to accomplish, because most people like to talk about themselves.

And by that I mean I like to talk about myself.

Ouch. Yeah. This happens. One of my nervous habits to avoid social awkwardness in group settings is to talk about or tell stories about myself. Also, one of my non-nervous habits in any situation with human beings is to talk about or tell stories about myself.

I feel like there’s a pattern here. Or a problem. Or both.

To make myself feel a little better, and because I can’t imagine I’m the only one with this problem, I’m using the royal “we.” If you’re perfect and selfless, feel free not to include yourself in this. And also stop reading this blog.

I think that often we spend so much time talking about ourselves that we don’t really hear other people’s stories. Or, if we do, we hear them through the lens of ME: what I have in common with you, how much I disagree with all of your opinions on everything, or how your story reminded me of something funny that happened to me.

Sometimes, fictional characters give me a different way of looking at things that are real, and this one taught me that people are just waiting to be asked about themselves. And why not? I mean, you already know all of your stories and opinions. You don’t know someone else’s…unless you ask and actually listen.

This is not a super profound observation. I realize this. But I just wrote a lofty-and-abstract New Year’s resolution post. (If you missed it, it’s here.) This is not a bad thing. However, it’s not enough, because I am not capable of accomplishing lofty-and-abstract goals. Some people are, but they stopped reading three paragraphs ago when I yelled at them for being perfect and selfless.

This post is about an important-but-little thing that falls under the category of one of the lofty-and-abstract goals. And guess what? I can listen to people, or at least try harder to listen to people. That’s small and unintimidating enough for me.

And I think that character building is in the little things, not the grand sweeping statements of intent.

So here goes. I’ll give it a try.

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