Moving Out of the Way (Cheryl Renée Herbsman)

Lessons it's taken us a while to learn... where to begin? There are so many! But the one I seem to have to learn daily has to do with my writing process. One thing I have learned is that every writer's process is different, and what works for one writer will not necessarily work for another.

I've learned that my process has a lot to do with listening -- listening to my characters, listening to my story, listening to the words, listening even to my setting. I have to listen. The problem for me is that I worry that I will listen and all I will hear is silence or the random, anxious chattering of my mind. And so I avoid the listening.

I jump right in, hoping to make up the story -- at least then something is happening. I don't have to sit quietly and wait to see what might show up. I'm being productive. Except the stories I make up are nowhere near as good as the stories that want to be told, the characters not as alive, the settings not as whole, the stories not as well plotted. Really I have the easiest job in the world -- shut up and get out of the way. Strangely, that is so much easier said than done.

I suspect the same is true in life. We spend so much time planning and organizing and trying to control everything. But I often wonder what would happen if I treated life the way I treat writing. If I made it my goal to listen to what needs to happen next instead of trying to have it all figured out and cleverly designed. Maybe life is clever like my characters, who are much brighter and trickier than I could ever be. Of course their genius only comes through when I make space to allow that. Otherwise I squeeze all the life out of them by trying to make them that way. When I can make a character leap off the page, I know I've succeeded in staying out of the way.

So I guess I'm still learning this lesson, even though I intellectually know it. I need to remind myself daily: get quiet, let them have their say. It'll save me a ton of work, and their story and my own will be better for it in the end.


  1. It's taken me quite some time to learn how to listen to my characters!

  2. It is hard sometimes to accept that life (and fiction) does not always go according to plan; it's definitely been hard for me to accept it. But like you said, it's good to "stay out of the way", because sometimes what our characters say or do can surprise us.

  3. I LOVE this Cheryl. I'm going to stop typing and listen today. Thank you.

  4. Yes...the stop flapping my mouth and fingers thing...LISTENING!


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