Active Listening for Writers

There are few things more annoying than explaining something to someone, thinking they’re listening to you, only to have them turn around and say, “Oh, sorry, I wasn’t listening.” Grr. Argh.

Seriously, this makes me just want to smack people. It’s annoying and a waste of time and just plain disrespectful. And don’t get me started on “phubbing,” which is the act of snubbing other people and paying attention to your mobile phone instead.

Not only are listening skills important in everyday communication, but they’re doubly important for writers—whether you write fiction, non-fiction, or dabble in poetry.

What is Active Listening?

There’s a specific kind of listening that’s easy to learn and can have a huge impact on your ability to communicate. It’s called active listening.

This technique allows you to thoroughly understand what the other person is saying, absorb their key points, and then formulate an effective response … without wasting brain power thinking about what on earth you should say next.

Active Listening Techniques

Pay attention

This means listening to understand, not so that you can figure out what to say next. The listener should have your undivided attention.

Put down your phone. Look directly at the speaker. Attend to what they’re saying.

Show you’re listening

Use body language to show how you’re paying attention. Incline your head toward the speaker. Hold eye contact with them. Give feedback that you’ve understood—nodding, “uh-huh,” etc.

If listening online (Zoom, Teams), look at your camera, not your screen.  Online, it’s super important to show that you’ve understood, so feedback is critical.

Ask questions

First rule here is to wait ’til the speaker has stopped speaking. Don’t interrupt.  Then ask open-ended questions. This means no questions that can be answered with a single word. Your question should require an in-depth response and encourage critical thinking.


Paraphrasing is literally taking someone else’s idea and putting it in your own words.  Restate what they’ve said. Then ask for confirmation that you’ve understood correctly

Request Clarification

If you’re not sure about something, ask for clarification.  Be specific about what you don’t understand.

Using Active Listening as a Writer

Use your active listening skills when you’re interviewing a source, or when giving an interview for a blog tour or the media.

Active listening skills can be helpful when writing body language. You can use active listening to show that a character is really listening to someone; can also use the opposite, to show that they’re not.

Listening to others teaches you a lot about life … take the anecdotes and knowledge and skills others share with you and weave it into your own writing.