Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day Twelve: Stop...Look...Listen

Stop...look...listen. As children, we were taught to do this before crossing a street. But it is also a good reminder for writers.

Our lives seem to be busier than ever, and the pace of life is often in overdrive. Especially, as we get older, time seems to fly by at warp speed. Our "To Do" lists get filled with so many things that need doing, that our "wants" get relegated to the bottom of the list--if they make the list at all. There is too much happening, too much information "out there," and too little time. As a result, we tend to narrow our focus to those things that directly affect us and ignore the rest.

Writers, though, need periods of time in which to slow down in order to refill the creative tank. Physically, this might mean getting away for a period of personal refreshing of body, mind, and spirit. Creatively, it might mean opening our mind's intake valve for an infusion of fresh ideas. For water to be fresh, there must be an inflow as well as an outflow. No inflow, and the stream dries up. No outflow, and it stagnates. It's the same with creative ideas. We must keep ourselves open to new ideas and engaged in life, or we may suddenly find ourselves unable to continue writing--otherwise known as "writer's block." If nothing fresh is flowing in, nothing can flow out as stories, articles, or essays. I have a friend who is constantly observing, listening (eavesdropping, if you will) to those around him. I recall one time when we were walking down the street and he pointed out a young couple ahead of us. He began telling me all about them: why they were there, what they were doing, what was going on in their lives. When I asked if he'd known them long, he replied that he didn't know them at all--he'd just spun a story about them from the things he observed as they walked ahead of us: their gestures, how they looked at each other, whether or not they were holding hands, the tone of their voices. This is the creative mind in action. You can learn a lot, and get fresh ideas for your writing, simply by observing people around you. So, S-T-O-P: Stop To Observe People.

As I said, because our lives are so hectic, we tend to narrow our focus. We limit ourselves to what's familiar, to what touches us personally: our interests, our family, our friends, our community. But to keep fresh ideas coming, we need to look beyond the familiar, to see what's going on in the lives of those around us and around the world. In our modern age, what happens in other countries affects what happens in our own. Rising energy costs and the global recession are just two examples. Likewise, we need to understand how our actions affect others both at home and abroad. We also need to be lifelong learners. While working on this year's NaNo novel, so far I've learned about mucking out stalls, milking cows, and gained a rudimentary knowledge about mid-19th century barns and the modifications their construction went through in the early 20th century. I'm also learning about the history of Stowe, Vermont, where my story is set. Will I ever really muck out a stall? Probably not. Nor do I see milking cows and building barns in my immediate future. But learning stimulates the mind, gets those synapses firing, and the creative wheels turning. It keeps our brains from stagnating. So, we need to L-O-O-K: Look Outward, Optimize Knowledge.

And then we need to listen, not just with our ears but with our minds and hearts. Learn to hear what's NOT being said. Learn to "hear" body language: facial expressions, gestures, posture. Listen to people's hearts, not just their words. As you're going about your day-to-day business, listen to what people are talking about. Carry a pen and pad with you and jot down snatches of conversation that are interesting or that stimulate creative thinking. Did you hear something your characters might discuss? Is that woman's body language saying something other than what her words are saying? How could you use that in a story? While sitting in a coffee shop or in a park, waiting in the checkout line at the store, or dining in a restaurant, spend time observing and listening to those around you. Do you just hear an indistinguishable buzz, or do bits of conversation stand out from the background noise? If something does stand out, allow your creative mind to speculate "what if?" So, L-I-S-T-E-N: Listen Intently, Sift Through External Noise.


1 comment:

  1. This is very good advice. I am not a writer, but as a visual artist, these same principle apply. To be creative, is to allow creativity to flow, and for that we need inspiration, and inspiration comes from observing!