Some of my most interesting ideas, stories, and characters come from sitting down in the middle of a coffee shop or mall, basically anywhere with people coming and going, having conversations, etc. People watching is one activity that is all about contemplative observation.
My current favorite place to go is my little local Starbucks near my house. It is one of the smallest stores in the area but gets huge amounts of foot traffic as people head off to work and on the weekends. There are also some regulars that come by and take up a few tables. Usually interesting characters stop by and chat with them. I make it a point to sit quietly (with coffee, of course) and watch the ebb and flow. I notice movement, not just what they are saying, but how they are saying it. I make mental notes and sometimes, I catch lines that I don’t want to forget and jot them down.
I can do this for an hour and not realize how quickly the time has gone by. I want to encourage you to do this for ten minutes. Find a place where you feel comfortable, then sit down and observe. Make notes if you like. Don’t try to manipulate the observation by moving closer to someone or purposefully eavesdropping on one conversation. Allow the observations to ebb and flow naturally. When you are done observing, maybe make one or two more notes and then put them away. Don’t look at them for a little while. The next time you are stuck for a writing idea, or some art inspiration take out your notes and use whatever pulls your attention. This way it becomes your own and not just a simple reflection of the observations you made.
I have not only created characters this way but written poems, affirmations, made art journal pages, blog posts, and even project ideas from this practice. For creative inspiration, it is essential to use the world around you. So today, if you can, take ten minutes and observe. The photo and poem below are two projects based on people watching.
My camera is set aside in a corner,
I did not capture
of a newly retired person,
seeing a clean and
I could have grabbed the camera
watched the delicate dance of
washing, drying and
of dishes, silverware, large serving bowls and cups;
early childish delight
in surveying sparkling counter tops
all in their proper place.
I found the camera within;
Enjoyed the moment of conversation
over clinking utensils
and water draining from the dishwasher.
A picture lost of
a simple moment,
a simple joy…
that join the minutes of each day.