Writing Exercise: Listen

This week’s exercise requires the writer venture away from home and the writing desk to find an interesting public venue in which to work.

Find a comfortable spot in a busy location where you can to sit and listen to conversations of others around you. Naturally, restaurants and coffee shops can provide such a setting, but try to broaden your search to less obvious locals. For example, a classroom fits the bill well, especially if you happen to be student or a teacher. So does a work environment, the park, a long line or the waiting room at the tax preparer ‘s office. Be sure to bring your notebook with you.

As snippets of conversation float your way, take selective dictation in long-hand in your notebook. While there is no rule against using a lap-top computer for this exercise, the key here is to be selective in your dictation and try not to write down every detail – long-hand will lessen that temptation.

Alternately, and particularly if you are a techy, you could use a voice recorder of some sort, transcribing selectively when you later listen. This approach allows you to listen closely in the moment and focus on the texture of the conversation rather than the details of the words. Your note-taking can focus on intonation and other non-linguistic details that might help animate your later (selective) transcription.

Instead of returning to your transcribed notes right away, let time lapse and events intervene with your memory. When finally you return to your notes, it will be with fresh eyes (and ears). Hopefully you will have forgotten some of what you heard and your subconscious will have already begun to make up alternate explanations for the notes you have taken. Let your imagination fill in the parts you don’t remember accurately, or, better yet, let your imagination rearrange everything contained in your notes.

Create a poem from this experience and share it in the comments area below.

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