“One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.”—Anne Lamott
Today’s exercise is to explore this gift—go someplace and observe life with your project in mind. This could be as simple as a trip to the post office or to a friendly neighborhood dive bar. If feasible, go to a setting that appears in your work. Instead of asking yourself how much longer it could possibly take the woman in front of you to buy a book of stamps, ask how your character would approach this chore. What would they observe? Would they have more patience as she looks at every possible option in the stamp portfolio?
Pay attention to the small details—the smells, how the man perched on the corner stool holds his beer, the light filtering through the tress at this time of day, or the ways people wait in line. These details can make your work—be it novel or historical treatise—vivid and real. Observe how each person navigates the space. Notice if they wander “the aisles of [their] supermarkets with glints of madness in their eyes” or if they revel in the task.
This habit of recording observations can be a mainstay of your writing practice. Stockpile these nuggets of overheard conversation, quotidian scenes and spectacles. Who knows when you might need one?
Quotes and inspiration from Bird by Bird: Some Intructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott