Natalie Goldberg, in her classic Writing Down the Bones:
“At six years old I was sitting at my cousin’s piano in Brooklyn making believe I was playing a song and singing along with it: ‘In the gloaming, oh my darling …’ My cousin, who was nine years older, sat down beside me on the piano stool and screamed to my mother, ‘Aunt Sylvia, Natalie is tone-deaf. She can’t sing!’ From then on, I never sang and I rarely listened to music. When I heard the scores from Broadway shows on radio, I just learned the words and never tried to imitate the melody. … I was tone-deaf: I had a physical defect, like a missing foot or finger.
“Several years ago I took a singing lesson from a Sufi singing master, and he told me there is no such thing as tone-deafness. ‘Singing is ninety percent listening. You have to learn to listen.’ If you listen totally, your body fills with the music, so when you open your mouth the music automatically comes out of you. A few weeks after that, I sang in tune with a friend for the first time in my life and thought for sure I had become enlightened. My individual voice disappeared and our two voices became one.
“Writing, too, is ninety percent listening. You listen so deeply to the space around you that it fills you and when you write, it pours out of you. If you can capture that reality around you, your writing needs nothing else. You don’t only listen to the person speaking to you across the table, but simultaneously listen to the air, the chair, and the door. And go beyond the door. Take in the sounds of the season, the sound of the color coming in through the windows. Listen to the past, future and present right where you are. Listen with your whole body, not only with your ears, but with your hands, your face, and the back of your neck.
“Listening is receptivity. The deeper you can listen, the better you can write.”