I am often asked by non-writer friends where I get my ideas. “Do they come from real life? Do they come from your imagination? Do you take notes? Are you always looking for a story? Do you do extensive research?” The most accurate answer is all of the above. But my truest answer, if I’m honest: I try to pay attention.
In the beginning, I scribbled ideas on scraps of random bits of paper, napkin wedges and backs of receipts. More often than not, I would promptly lose them. There were also the middle-of-the-night brilliant ideas that I was sure I wouldn’t forget but inevitably did. My solution came in buying two notebooks, one that I try to keep with me at all times and another one for beside my bed. Sometimes I go back to read these notes and I can’t decipher them. But that doesn’t matter. Mostly, I do remember and it encourages me to pay attention.
I am endlessly curious about people. Most every person I encounter is fascinating in some way. Everyone has a story and I believe you can learn something from each individual. Maybe it’s a piece of wisdom or just a fragment of information. It might be the observation of a baby‘s intense concentration while trying to pick up a bug or that one cheerio on a slippery tray. It could be the way someone holds their hands while listening to criticism. Notice the gait of say a minister when compared to that of a car salesman. What do your fingers look like after sticking them in a bag of Cheetos? After washing blackberries? Observation is an essential element in the writer’s toolbox. Every observation adds texture to your memory bank. Even if you are writing non-fiction or a self-help book, observation is crucial. You have to observe how your audience is doing something incorrectly, to tell them how to do it right. Right?
Every bit of information and observation informs your writing. Tuck it away. Observe. Create. Write. Repeat. Not necessarily in that order.