Today’s post is an excerpt from Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing. This is from a chapter titled “Observation,” which explores drawing writing inspiration from the things you observe in daily life.
When we open ourselves up to our surroundings and take in the details, we will find inspiration in the most unlikely of places.
Imagine that you’re sitting in an airport, waiting to pick up a friend whose flight is delayed. It’s been a long day, and you’re tired, so you decide to rest in the lounge area and watch a movie. You put on your headphones and set your tablet on your lap. Soon, you’re engrossed in the film, so you never see what’s happening around you.
You don’t notice two men wearing suits, who are standing outside of a café, having a heated argument. Passersby are staring. An officer is guarding an exit-only door. A woman flashes a badge at him and then disappears through the door. Behind you, a young couple stands up and walks toward the terminal, leaving a nondescript carry-on behind. An elderly lady calls after them and points to the carry-on, but they shake their heads and continue on their way. The elderly woman frowns and mutters, “I saw them set it down. I know it’s theirs.” At the airport gift shop, a delivery man drops a package on his foot, and two children perusing souvenirs point and laugh, but not at him. They’re looking at something else.
There’s a story, an essay, or a poem in there somewhere. But you missed it because you were plugged in. You weren’t paying attention to your surroundings. You weren’t being observant.
Whether it’s noticing the way sunlight flickers through the auburn and golden leaves of a maple tree at high noon on an autumn day or the behavior of people in an airport, inspiration abounds all around you. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss it.
But if you are paying attention, you can absorb it, process it, and put it into your writing. That’s the power of observation, and if you can cultivate it, you’ll get some of your best ideas from taking in the world around you (and the people in it). Every day, you’re exposed to bits of dialogue, interesting stories, and funny situations. Turn these into poems, stories, articles, and essays.
Set a date to complete this activity, or do it the next time you’re out and about. Whether you’re attending a party with friends or going to a store or just taking a walk around your neighborhood, make an effort to pay attention to everything around you. After your outing, write down every detail you can remember. Who was there? What did they look like? Who were they with? What were they wearing? What were they doing? What did they say? How did the place look? Was it bright or dim? Warm or cool? How did it smell? What sounds did you hear?
Write down your observations, recalling as many details as you can remember. Repeat this activity from time to time, and see if your observation skills improve.