13.31: Learning to Listen as a Writer

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard

“Write what you know” gets misapplied a lot. In this episode we’ll talk about how to know things by listening well. In particular, we’re looking at writing interesting characters by listening to real people.

We also talk about the more formal act of interviewing people¹, and how to deal with the attendant complexities.

Liner Notes:  Mary references her interviewing of rocket scientists and astronauts, which we just talked about last week. When this episode was recorded the JPL trip was still in our future, and was “will have been” extremely cool.

Comment Notes: The audio file wasn’t correctly linked until Tuesday. The irony of the our “how to listen” episode having exactly zero “listen” buttons is not lost on anyone.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson and engineered by Alex Jackson. Their fine work was obscured from public view by the careless hands of Howard Tayler.



Interview some people! Find someone you don’t know, and then interview them, with a goal of learning something new.

Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer To Retrain Your Brain, by Stephen J Dubner and Steven D Leavitt, narrated by Stephen J. Dubner

33 thoughts on “13.31: Learning to Listen as a Writer”

  1. Where’s the “Listen” button to actually listen to the cast? Is it just me?

    1. Same problem using Google Chrome. Button appears on previous episodes. Geoff
      Who is frustrated.

  2. Anyone else see the joke? The “Listen” button is missing… on the ‘cast about learning to listen. I’d give it at least a coinflip that Howard did this on purpose.

    1. Haha! You are right. It might have been a joke.

      But it’s over now 8/7 and working again.

  3. Great episode! May we please get the author and title of the memoir Dan referenced that was authored by a female chaplain?

    1. The book Dan mentioned sounds like “Here If You Need Me: A True Story,” by Kate Braestrup.

  4. BTW, really needed this today, super-stressed at work and getting to listen to this was a huge source of “chill”.

    Howard’s “what?” at the start was extra-funny given the missing LISTEN options yesterday. :-)

  5. Appreciated the take on “write what you know”. Since I tend to react literally, when people would say that to me I’d think “Well if I wrote only what I know I could only write a couple short articles.” LOL!!!!!

    I guess I haven’t learned to articulate myself well enough yet–when I ask a subject matter expert an open ended question, they usually don’t end up answering what I need to know. Open ended is fine and I do agree that you learn more BUT I guess I’m not people oriented enough to convey the specific nature of my question without being blunt and obvious.

  6. I’m not certain but I think the memoir Dan referenced was “Here If You Need Me” by Kate Braestrup — sounds like it anyway.

  7. Hey, did you hear about…? Yep, Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard talked about listening as a writer, to go along with the old adage write what you know. How do you take in ideas, personalities, attitudes, events, all that grist surrounding us and use it in your writing? Well, listen to the podcast, or read the transcript available now in the archives and over here


    You may learn something special! Something you never knew before…

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