Although I consider myself a highly creative person, there are times when I just don’t feel it. Maybe I have a headache, or find myself distracted. Maybe I’m juggling too many things to concentrate on the creative process. At times like this, forcing myself doesn’t typically yield the results I desire. Instead of wasting time and energy, I give myself permission to do something completely mindless and benign; I go “people watching”.
While Urban Dictionary defines people watching as a hobby, I define it as one of the single most creative outlets I have in my repertoire. The one simple truth about this activity is that everyone has a story. The creative aspect comes from allowing your imagination to determine what story fits a particular person.
Here’s how to use people watching to boost your creativity:
1. Go to any high-traffic location where you can find a comfy place to sit and watch what’s going on. For organized group observations, check your local newspaper or online town calendar for events that are free and open to the public.
2. Bring props like a magazine or laptop so you can appear to be doing your own thing, just in case you become the observed instead of the observer. Always carry a notebook to capture interesting quotes, unique character features, or story ideas. After all, you don’t want to go to all this trouble and then forget your great idea before you have a chance to get home and write it down!
3. Scan your area to observe the different people and their respective activities. Then look at them again, but this time more slowly. Who captures your attention? What is it that makes this scene most interesting for you to observe?
4. Let your imagination go! This is your time to shine as you shape the person’s life story, just by observing his or her body language and actions. What can you surmise? What gives you those impressions? How certain are you in your assumptions? How would the exact opposite character description fit your story? What kind of account can you dream up that would make this person the most loveable person on earth? What would make him or her the most detested? Which story seems most plausible?
5. As you continue your observations, write interesting details in your notebook so you can use them later. Capture story ideas that present themselves as you go through your imaginary game. When you feel newly inspired, enjoy a latte before packing up to go home to write!
Because people watching inspires my creativity, I find ways to incorporate into my weekly routine. I watch people while waiting to pick up my son from after school sports. I observe people while waiting in line at the grocery checkout, or when in the waiting room for a dental appointment. No matter where I am, taking a few moments to observe others always sparks my creativity.
People watching is not just for #writers looking for interesting characters or making up curious plots.
— sheila callaham (@SheilaCallaham) March 12, 2015
I’ve found blog posts and videos that prove people watching is a popular form of entertainment. For example, two or more people might want to play one of these 12 games created around the hobby of people watching. There’s even a wiki how-to on people watching, in the event you need more details than what I’ve outlined above. Here’s a short video that shows how entertaining people watching can be.
In the end, people watching is like watching television except you write the script as the characters move on the stage of life. For me, that’s an incredible source of creativity. While I can sit and stare at my computer, refusing to write, I simply cannot sit and stare at people without my imagination taking over. Creativity is guaranteed, or your money back.
What one thing can you always rely on to spark your creativity? Let me know in the comments below.