Imagination will only take you so far. If you’re going to write, you need to get out in the real world and live. This can be as simple as sitting in a cafe listening to other people’s conversations and how they talk. There are some intriguing communicators out there. The other day I overheard this man who could not for the life of him finish a single sentence. Everything he said trailed off with some kind of hand gesture as if his friend ought to know what he was getting at. It was hilarious.
Watch people; observe how they walk, behave, what odd things do they do? I was at Starbucks and saw this woman in her sixties fold and strip off the margins from an entire newspaper before reading it. She did this every time she read the paper. That is a quirk I’ve never seen before! I was fascinated.
You can tell a lot about a person by how they dress. Play Sherlock Holmes for a day and try to piece together a stranger’s life simply by studying their clothes, the things they say, how they talk, the way they move. It can be a lot of fun.
Travel. Learning about new cultures gives you insight to people and a greater understanding of human nature as a whole. When I went to Mexico, I was amazed by how happy Mexicans were, especially the people who had nothing. Many people were scraping by, living in self-made one-room huts without windows or doors, sleeping on a hammock and feeding off the land around them. They were some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. When you travel, you get a whole host of new ideas, the change of scenery frees your mind and gets your imagination going.
Challenge yourself by learning new things. Take a class in something completely different, totally out of your comfort zone. Maybe you’ve always wanted to write action films, take a martial arts class. Improve your sense of rhythm by taking a dance class. There are always parallels that can be drawn from life and put into your stories. Try rock climbing or hiking up a mountain trail. Go camping, get back to nature.
Relationships. You learn more about human nature by meeting new people and getting entangled in their dramas. You might get a little bruised here and there, but you learn so much about yourself and how to handle certain situations by dealing with a wide variety of people.
Get a real job. If all you’ve ever done is go to school and write, you’ll only ever understand life through books, film and TV. Real life isn’t like it is in media. The more real-life work experience you have, the more realistic your stories will be. It’s so disappointing and frustrating to a reader or audience to read a script about a writer or ad exec or publishing exec or PR consultant. Write about a garbage collector or janitor. Find out what it’s like to really do those jobs. If you don’t want to get one, talk to someone who does the job.
Interview people. If you’re too scared to dirty up your life with genuine experiences or don’t have time, get the Coles Notes version and talk to someone about their lives. Go to retirement homes and ask them to talk to you. Be honest about who you are and why you’re there. People who have really lived have some incredible and unique stories and you might just stumble upon a true gem. If you do, make sure you get their permission in writing to tell their story.
Whatever you can do to get a fresh perspective on people, relationships and life, the better. It will not only enrich your writing, it’ll make you a better person and give you a complete and fulfilling life!