How to Use the Power of Silence to Boost Your Writing Career

A guest post by Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer

As writers, we voice our opinions, discuss options, interview sources, ask questions, negotiate with editors and clients, and kvetch about assignments with our writer friends.

For what most people call a solitary profession, writing sure involves a lot of talking.

But there are times when silence is the best thing for your career. Here are some examples.

1. The Interview Silence

I recently became a wellness coach and personal trainer. Our natural tendency is to formulate what we’re going to say next while the other person is talking so we can jump right in when they’re finished.

But coaches need to listen deeply to their clients, which means there will be a dreaded silence when the client is done speaking where the coach is thinking about how to respond.

With my last few clients, I decided to fight my fear of silence and let it happen. I listened mindfully to my clients and tried to restrain my impulse to swoop in as soon as they finished speaking. It felt a bit unnatural, but my clients gave glowing feedback on my listening skills and coaching manner.

I decided to try the same tactic with my next phone interview for an article I was working on for a custom publisher. Instead of being at the ready with my next question, I thought about what the source said and then based my next question on that. We had a delightful conversation, and I learned more and got better information than I would have if I had peppered the source with question after question.

Try it: The next time you have an interview, prepare a few ice-breaker questions and list the questions you absolutely have to ask, but let the conversation be your guide. Listen intently to your source — no multitasking — and take a few seconds when the source is done speaking to formulate your next question.

2. The Community Silence

We writers are an opinionated lot, and nowhere is this more evident than on online writing forums. But sometimes it makes sense to be silent, leave the arguments to others, and spend your time on building your writing career.

Writers who know me only online often comment on how nice I seem. (Notice how I said “seem”!) That’s because I try not to get caught up in flame wars, opinion flinging, and judging. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying I don’t think these thoughts. I do, and sometimes they turn into hopefully illuminating posts on the Renegade Writer blog. But I prefer to save most of the actual complaining and gossiping for a couple of my best writer friends — offline.

Every once in awhile I find myself constructing arguments in my head to something someone said online, and then I catch myself and realize that just because I had a thought doesn’t mean I need to make it public.

The same can be said for social media. Whenever my toddler says something über- brilliant or I get a plum writing assignment, my first reaction is often, “I have to put this on Facebook!” But then I started wondering: Why am I so concerned with what 600 acquaintances (most of my FB friends I don’t know in real life) think of my son or my career? I then consider how, when I go onto Facebook to post one comment, I often get sucked into reading all the updates. So I remain silent and do something else instead.

Try it: The next time you’re tempted to jump into an argument online or share every witty thought with the social media world, try to stay silent for a while.
The urge will pass, and you’ll have spent your time on tasks that actually move you towards your career goals.

3. The Negotiating Silence

Kelly James-Enger and Carol Tice are both proponents of silence while negotiating with clients and editors.

Here’s how it works: An editor says, “We can pay you 20 cents per word.” Your first inclination is to jump in and ask for more, but instead you stay silent for a few seconds. This creates tension without being aggressive, and sometimes the editor comes back to offer more without your even saying anything. (Ask Carol how this happened to her!)

But if he doesn’t, the silent pause is your chance to determine how much you want to make and how you’re going to ask for it. If you fear the silence, you may walk right into a contract that doesn’t work for you.

Try it: The next time a client has you on the phone and is offering an unacceptable deal, resist the urge to jump in with a better deal and wait a few seconds
instead. If the client doesn’t break the silence, you can still use that time to figure out what you really want from the deal.

Linda Formichelli has written for more than 120 magazines since 1997, from Pizza Today to Redbook, and is also a wellness coach and personal trainer. Linda’s writing blog is The Renegade Writer, and her coaching blog is HappyFit, where she posts about anxiety, depression, energy, fitness, diet, motivation, and happiness.

 

About the author

Linda Formichelli

Linda Formichelli is the author of The Renegade WriterShe has written for more than 130 magazines and is the co-author of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success. She is also the author ofHow to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life - While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie.

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