May 09, 2021

When We Listen by Steph Beth Nickel

When the words mean even more than the writer knew they meant,
then the writer has been listening.
And sometimes when we listen, we are led into places we do not expect,
into adventures we do not always understand.
Madeleine L’Engle

“Rambling until I stumble across truth.” That’s how I refer to journaling.

Sometimes, we simply have to “shake loose” those “places we do not expect,” those “adventures we do not always understand.”

They live within us. Sometimes on the surface. Sometimes buried deep within.

Have your own words ever surprised you? Have they jumped off the page as if that truth, that question, that reality was just waiting to see the light of day? Have those words ever inspired a blog post? A talk? An entire book?

Before we explore further, I want to let you know I’m not talking about perfectly polished prose. I’m referring to that sentence or phrase that flows from the tip of your pen or from your fingertips without forethought.

Yes, we have to “kill our darlings.” Not everything we think is profound and inspirational is meant for anyone besides ourselves. But let’s not deny the importance of words that are just for us either. 

How can we invite these words to impact our lives? How can we travel to those places and have those adventures Madeline L’Engle referred to? How can we listen?

  1. Before you sit down to write, do your best to set aside distractions. Focus singularly on the task at hand. If you haven’t already, develop a pre-writing routine that triggers the “it’s-time-to-write” mindset.
  2. Practice what Julia Cameron calls “morning pages.” Just put pen to paper first thing in the morning and write three pages to rid your mind of the clutter that you’ve accumulated. No judgment and no rewrites allowed. This is the ultimate info dump. Still, you may find gold among the dross.
  3. Similarly, you can freewrite regularly. Choose a writing prompt or come up with one of your own. Set a timer. And write as fast as you can. Again, it’s important to silence your inner editor. You may discover an idea you want to pursue.
  4. Try your hand at a genre or form of writing that is new to you. While it may frustrate more than inspire, there is a chance that looking at things from a different perspective is just what you need.
  5. Go on an “artist’s date.” (This is another of Julia Cameron’s recommendations.) Do something that inspires you. Even in these days of social distancing and lockdowns, you can take a walk, snap some pictures, peruse Pinterest for inspiring images. (When the restrictions lift, you may want to grab a coffee with a friend, wander through your local art gallery, or curl up in a corner at the library and read a book.)

How do you “listen” before, during, and after you write? Have you travelled to unexpected places because of your writing? Have you had adventures you hadn’t understood before certain words flowed from your fingertips?

Steph Beth Nickel began freelance editing over 13 years ago and is currently taking new clients. You can contact her at To join her Editing Tips Facebook group, answer the questions here: Glad to have you join us! Steph is also a blogger, author—and a labour doula. 


  1. Julia Cameron has so many gems of wisdom when it comes to freeing the creative spirit within us. I have been a 'journaller' long before I ever heard of her or knew who she was. Like you said, I often find some very surprising and profound thoughts come out during my quiet journalling time. In fact, writing in my journal is an important part of my prayer time. I find I can articulate my prayers more concisely when writing them. Thanks for this post and reminder, Steph.
    PS: Congrats on your soon-to-be new position within our ranks... Not sure if I'm allowed to say much, so I'm not spilling anything else here! Looking forward to it, though! Blessings.

  2. Thanks for all the inspiration, information and challenges, Steph. Wonderful wisdom.

  3. That gave me a lot to think about. Thanks for that. I also love the fact that when I don't know what I'm praying about, God does. He sure is a patient listener.

  4. I miss my artist dates! So often I put these essential activities on my "c" list instead of my "a" list. Time to move them up! Great post!

  5. Thanks for your words of wisdom, Steph Beth. You always give us a lot to think about.


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