Recently I came up with a brilliant idea. It was nothing revolutionary, merely a solution to a problem that had been plaguing some other people for a long time. I made a suggestion that would help and was met with… surprise?

Ok, so I’m not entirely shocked by that. I do tend to be the kind of person with a joke for every situation (why must we take everything so seriously?) but since I do pride myself on my critical thinking skills, I wondered why. Why wouldn’t I be able to come up with a solution to a problem that didn’t actually directly involve me? Now, let’s get something straight, I tend to prefer it when people underestimate me. It makes it more fun for me to blow them out of the water when I feel like it, and allows me to fly well under the radar when I don’t feel like it (which is most often). I sometimes think that if you tend to be a joker–a light-hearted individual–people figure the only thing inside your brain is water-balloon juggling orangutans and tiny-car-driving bananas.

The truth is, I’m listening. All. The. Time. I listen to what people say and what they don’t say. I analyze situations and love solving problems. I’m a writer after all, and what do writers do? They solve problems. (First they make up problems that seem unsolvable and then solve them, but you get the idea).

I think it’s extremely important for a writer to listen–to analyze and understand what’s happening around her to understand how to put what we see into words that let others see it too.  The stand-up comedian that can tell you exactly how you feel about something is the one who you’re going to relate to best, the one who will make you laugh. The author who can put into words the feelings you have experienced is the one you will embrace, the one you will allow to take your heart on a journey.

Recently, I came face to face with an old friend of mine, the one I had been hoping to avoid (and had successfully managed to, for a while).

Grief. We go way back.

The words of a dear friend telling me that their radiant teenage daughter was gone didn’t make my heart sink. They made my heart erode in my chest, sucking the air from my lungs with the strength of a desert sandstorm. I crumpled under the weight of their words, in an instant fully realizing the pain of the journey they had before them. Putting words to the pain is difficult, but telling a reader that your character’s “heart sank” is doing a disservice to the reality of their pain. It’s easier to used tired clichés to describe emotions, but so much better not to.

I know this post is kind of disjointed. In some ways I just needed to put my jumble of thoughts into words to help sort them out in my own head. It’s helping to remind me as a writer to be present–to watch and think and remember. I can’t write if I don’t feel. I can’t make up problems to solve without first understanding the impossible journeys those around me are taking. I can’t make my words endearing if they are shallow and empty.

Listen. Feel. Write.