We all get tired of doing our jobs and look for excuses for not doing our work, but one of the most fun things I find about being a writer is that we can put some of that down time into actually doing a better job later. I’m not just talking about research, and I know lots of writers get so wrapped up in their research that they forget to write their stories, while others spend too much time trying something new or a new way of writing that they don’t get words down on paper or into the computer.Writers seem to be constantly finding new ways NOT to do our job, but never fear, that down time can be put to good use. We can still use those moments of what we call research or just sitting around into our work. Whether it be observation, which I’ve often talked about or trying a new experience as a way of learning, we can still write about it or take notes and use the whole thing later in a story. We just need to stay aware.
Not long ago I played hooky from my computer by visiting the Dior Exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. Seeing different designs was fun, but imagining the people who might wear them gave me great ideas for a whole new story. It was a rich experience I so many ways, beyond just seeing the fashions.
As I've written in the past, even staring at the sky can be turned into a writing experience. How does your character view those clouds? What do you see in them? What might those dark threatening clouds mean to your character? A need to get on the road or a gathering storm that equals their emotions?
Taking some time to enjoy the scent of newly blooming lilacs may seem like down time, but you can put them to good use later. Is the scent overpowering, does it bring up memories of walking home from school for your character? Again, sights, sounds sensations that we all experience can seem to be ordinary, but as writers we need to stop and notice them. We need to remember them for later use because they can be useful when you’re grappling for a scene description or for the feelings of your characters.
How does that sunny spring day make YOU feel? How would it make your pessimistic character feel? What about your happy go lucky character? Does he see brightness even in the most rainy day? Recently on a trip to Vancouver, BC, I was disappointed I couldn’t take pictures of the bay because the sun was much too bright and I couldn’t capture the scene. But at the same time I was able to get pictures inside the small, picturesque hotel where I was enjoying a relaxing lunch, writing scenes for my next suspense book. I could almost imagine my character thinking she had seen a murder, but then being blinded by the bright sunlight and wondering if that is what she really saw. The next day I listened to other authors talk about the dark side of Vancouver and how they write their stories set in different parts of the city. For some of them, the vibrant suburbs made perfect sense, while others talked about the gritty side of town and the fear of being on some of those streets at night.
As I travelled the city, I watched for those settings that they discussed and thought about how I would write different stories set in the different areas. Yes, I could see a mystery set in the gritty area or a family drama set in the suburbs. But then again, why not turn things around and set a story of hope on that gritty downtown street where a woman finds a new reason for living? Why not try that sad story on the sunlit beach?
There are so many possibilities, but as writers we get to make those choices and we get to choose what the story is going to be. But learning, watching and drinking in the setting can make all the difference in the world.