More than one writing book has said that people watching is a good way to fight writer's block. They advise writers to take a walk around their neighborhood, sit in a cafe and write about the customers, or go to a shopping mall and watch the people go in and out of the stores.
There was a scene in my manuscript that I was stuck on. It just didn't sound right, and I didn't enjoy writing it. I thought about cutting it out altogether, but the scene was important to the story; it was supposed to reveal something important about the main character and her brother. I just couldn't figure out how to make it ring true, so I set aside my manuscript for almost two weeks.
Not writing for that long makes me frustrated and cranky, and it also makes me so bored that I'm almost tempted to watch reruns of The Hills (almost). So I decided to try people watching by taking a walk around my neighborhood.
I opened the door of my apartment, only to see one of my neighbors rush by in his underwear. He was on his way to throw a bag of garbage down the trash chute. I wouldn't have minded if he looked like Channing Tatum, but he looked more like John Goodman before he lost 100 pounds. (Don't get me wrong. I like John Goodman. He's a terrific actor, and he's actually pretty handsome. But I'd rather not see him run around in briefs, you know?) I quickly closed my door and had to rinse my eyes out with water in order to get the image out of my head.
When I finally felt safe enough to leave my apartment again, I took a walk down my street. I saw the same couple I see almost every morning. They were standing outside their building with their arms around each other, kissing. What I find interesting is that they always make a point of looking around between kisses, either because they want to make sure that no one's watching, or they want to make sure that everyone's watching.
I turned a corner and nearly bumped into a woman walking down the street wearing nothing but sneakers, long shorts and a bra. Not a sports bra or a bikini top, but an actual bra. It reminded me of that Seinfeld episode where Elaine gives a female acquaintance a bra as a gift, and the woman wears it like a top and walks around outside in it. I saw several guys turn to stare at this woman, but they looked more confused than anything else. They were all, Wait, am I dreaming, or am I still drunk right now?
It also seemed to me like my neighborhood had been invaded by a bunch of babies. I saw several women and men, some of whom were pushing strollers; others were carrying babies in their arms. The babies looked so cute, with their tiny hands, chubby cheeks, and round heads. It reminded me of how I want to be a mother someday, and I felt tempted to kiss the babies' foreheads. But I would probably get arrested if I went around kissing babies' foreheads, so I didn't do it.
I also saw a little boy walking hand in hand with his mother. She was talking on her cell phone, but he was looking around at everything on the street. I saw him watching the people yelling at each other across the street, the drivers honking their horns, the happy dogs leading their owners, and a barista offering free drink samples at a cafe nearby. His eyes were very wide and he seemed genuinely fascinated by everything. Out of all the people I observed, I thought it would be good to be like him.
After I finished walking around, I went to a cafe and wrote several pages for my manuscript. I felt better than I had in a while. I also came to a few conclusions: 1) A lot of my neighbors are weird. 2) Some of them need to wax their backs. 3) I don't think I'm a prude for saying that people should put their clothes on before they leave their homes. 4) Even though a lot of my neighbors drive me up the wall, they often give me something to write about.
What about you? Does people watching work for you when you're fighting writer's block? Do you find yourself observing people when you walk around your neighborhood, and what kinds of things have you seen/learned?
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