Monday, November 10, 2008

Getting Out of Your Own Head by Anne Carter

As writers, we are often -- make that always -- asked where we get our ideas. I've heard others swear they drop them into a basket at WalMart, while others launch a half hour discourse on thoughtful forays into the intellectual unknown.

My favorite discussion about ideas involves the talent of simply "paying attention". Noticing things is an art, a mindfulness that must be practiced daily.

A therapist once advised me to try and stay in the moment more of the time. She suggested I abandon worry, regret and non-production anticipation, and just enjoy what was going on around me. Her advice was good for the writer in me. Writers are often guilty of living inside their own heads, dreamily concocting or inventing new worlds and characters to write about. Ironically, it is this absorption that stunts us, blocking awareness of the world and all it has to offer in terms of new ideas.

With effort, writers can learn to become more open to their surroundings and begin to mine a wealth of resources. A good place to start is to read the newspaper, front page to last. Jot down facts, stories, special interest items that speak to you. Start a file for these ideas.

Eavesdrop. Instead of studying your nails while riding the lift to the 20th floor, listen to the conversations around you, speculate about what will happen next in the lives of your co-riders.

Become a private eye. Next time you are in a public place, such as an airport, a big shopping mall, a government building, pretend you are a spy, a CIA operative or a security specialist. Be keenly observant of those around you, looking for that cloaked subversive, that international terrorist, then make notes to yourself on what it was about these people that gave you the feeling they may walk on the shadier side of life.

Do something out of your ordinary routine. Shop at a different store, walk a different route. Seeing new sites makes us acutely aware of our surroundings, since we need to learn to navigate. We are often least observant while in our own comfort zone.

Last, use it! Peruse your notes, combine thoughts, mix it up. The man on the elevator with the woman in the florist shop who dropped her purse. A building about to be demolished with a waitress in the diner down the street.

It's all there for those who are in the moment to see it.


Marilyn said...

All great ideas.

I always eavesdrop much to my husband's dismay.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Good advice! Eavesdropping should be every writer's pastime, if defined to a fine art. :)

Dana Fredsti said...

Eavesdropping is mandatory if you ride the Muni...well, I should say unavoidable. Dang teenagers, she grumbled...

All good ideas!

Morgan Mandel said...

I tend to walk the dog on the same route, but lately have been trying to go in a different direction to make it more interesting for both of us and get us out of the same routine.

Morgan Mandel

Mark said...

I'm not a good eavesdropper, but I do tend to watch the people around me for the way they stand, sit or move. Body language tells a whole lot about people.