Talk to the stranger including that which lurks within
So here goes – ways to whip that imagination and those observational powers into shape.
Write it down: A writers journal is not an account of day to day life it is a random collection of observations, character ideas, snippets of conversation, epiphanies about life, the seeds of story ideas, funny incidents, interesting words and phrases. My journal would be gibberish to others but to me it’s an assurance that I haven’t wasted some good experiences or thoughts.
Stimulus-free time: Ideas are allowed to blossom when you are not being bombarded with other stimuli. I am an avid podcast listener but there is times when I turn everything off and let my mind roam free. Go for a ipod-free walk or do a mundane house chore in silence, drive with that radio off. This is not just beneficial for story ideas but for sorting through your current project. For instance I have found that these times allow me to have almost have a birds-eye view of my overall novel and see inconsistencies in structure and characters.
Free writing: I’ll admit to not using this tool for a while as ideas haven’t been so much my problem as the discipline of writing my middle-grade novel. However I have found this useful in the past for short-story ideas (which sometimes grow into longer forms). The idea of free-writing can be a bit daunting ie creating something from nothing. So I mostly employ a semi-free-writing approach and start with a word, or a phrase or a character. These can come from the innumerable websites/ebooks/apps that offer writing prompts (see some links below) or maybe something from your own journal. Allow yourself to write unstructured rubbish for 10 minutes, longer if you are getting in the flow. Nobody else will see it. Put it aside when you finish and reread at a later time. You may find a gem amongst the refuse and you’ll almost certainly find strange musings that you didn’t even know you were capable of.
Deliberate observation: make a decision for a period of time to be deliberately observant. Ask yourself questions about the people and things in your environment. Yes, public places like airports and cafes are fascinating. Why does that middle-aged couple appear so awkward with one another? Why is that man in arrivals looking so worried? Why are those children so fascinated by their food they’ve being served? Why? Why? Why?. But you don’t have to be in a public place. Even driving I sometimes play a little game. What sort of person would have a confronting car sticker like that?? How can that young woman afford a car like that? Look at that toy truck sitting on the balcony of the high rise. What sort of life would that be for a child?
If you find yourself staring at people with your mouth open or edging closer to people to catch their conversation you are becoming a bit creepy but anything less than this is fair pickings.
Deliberate Engagement: This one is the most difficult for the introverts among us. I won’t say – walk up to a stranger and start a conversation, because that’s not always easy. But, at least, next time a casual conversation starts or a joke is shared with a person in a shop or on a train be receptive to continuing that conversation. Ask a question of that person give something of yourself. Before you know it you may learn that that man or women has a fascinating story to tell. A story that is outside your normal sphere of existence. I find it very sad when people think this type if interaction is somehow odd. Recently I saw a women start talking to a couple on train station. She was an older women and looked a little untidy but what she was saying about the day and the train made perfect sense. The couple just stared at her as if she was an alien. When she walked away they remarked in a loud whisper “You get some real weirdos around here!” (You do indeed. Rude ones as well!) It takes nothing to be polite and there is much to be gained from learning other people’s life experiences. Be endlessly curious and judge not by appearance alone. Some of the people I have talked to in this way have been African refugees, ex-sporting champions and young world travelling backpackers.
Thus ends my ramblings (for the time being) about a creative mind. Now it’s time for you to ramble or even offer pithy comments to show me up. Do you find any of the above techniques useful? Have you had a chance encounter with a stranger that has broaden your horizons?