Watching and Waiting: People and Creativity

People are everywhere. Crowds pass through thoroughfares and commute, every day, everywhere, going places. People pass each other and register faces as blurs. One can sit beside another somewhere, and never know who that person is. It’s interesting because people are around, always, but to the individual they’re often no more than faces that are part of the¬†background.

The people you randomly meet in your every day life can become an interesting – and perhaps very useful – part of the creative process and your creative development. People-watching is a thing, and sometimes one can be content to just watch and wonder what’s happening to this woman who’s crying over there, or what the old man walking in the park is thinking. But like I said, strangers can be useful parts of the creative process. What you can do is take people-watching to the next level, and use them as springboards to write your story. It may be a little weird to start writing about someone you see in the coffee shop every day, or about the guy who serves behind the register in a grocery store, but it’s fun since – while you’re still, of course, writing fiction – they transcend mundane existence and become very interesting people with very interesting backstories. It’ll be all in your head – and in your fiction – of course, but from the random faces in the crowd, you can give life to your own characters.

If it helps, think of strangers are “writing prompts.” It may sound a little weird, but it’s certainly not too hard to think of them as people with their own backgrounds. You just have to fill in the blanks and use your imagination a little – or a lot – to turn them into something else. People-watching will help fuel your own imagination and start up the writing process. It may also help to overcome writer’s block. A single stranger can become a springboard for a lot of ideas that you may want to work on. It doesn’t even have to be straight-up prose. You may consider writing verses about strangers, if you can’t really stretch them enough into short stories. There are a lot of possibilities present, if and when you want to play around with ideas and you happen to see people around you and you decide to, so to speak, use them.

It’s a pretty nice thing, if you think about it. Strangers stop being strangers and start being characters in your fiction, or parts of your verse, and they give life to your own creative pursuits and help lift you out of a creative slump. People-watching is also a good reason to bring a notebook and a pen everywhere with you, because you don’t really know when creativity hits – it just does. It’s also a pretty interesting way to get time to pass, because it’s a potentially productive endeavor and one that doesn’t require too much money to do.

So start the habit of people-watching when you’re bored. Start thinking up narratives, and maybe writing them down when they sound good enough for you. Who knows? Maybe that cafe regular who always sits in the corner is the missing piece to your story.



Jillian is an English Literature graduate who loves reading science fiction and fantasy, and is a big fan of J.G. Ballard. She is obsessed with coffee, video games, and rottweilers, and keeps herself busy by writing and walking around a lot. She's currently reading Jeanette Winterson and a lot of YA literature.

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