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Engaged Observation: How It Will Change Your Writing

The best writing transports us to another world, another life, another experience. The only way to reach this level of writing is to change the way you interact with the existing world.

So often we go through life focused on facts, our phones and our to-do lists and not the moments as they pass. We’re too busy looking ahead or behind to see what is. The sad fact is few of us are truly engaged in our lives. It’s one reason we are so often surprised by how quickly time has passed. Where did the summer go? It’s Christmas already?

Learning how to be more present and engaged will help you and your writing. It’s not easy. I struggle with it myself. I am a daydreamer who gets lost in the stories in my head and engaging with people who only exist in dreams and on the page. Writing this blog is part reminder to myself.

Here are some tips I’ve learned for living a more engaged life:

Be open to what life brings. Forget the plan. As my father used to say, “If everything goes to plan, there are no good stories to tell.” He was a master storyteller, so I believe that to be true. It is and has been my philosophy since I was a child.

Be spontaneous. Be willing to jump at opportunities, to take the unknown turn in the road. You never know what you will find.

Be passionate about your interests. Passion is a great way to focus on what you are doing. Don’t be afraid to show some enthusiasm.

Then let your enthusiasm shine through. If you are into something, let it show. Don’t be afraid to show who you are and what you like, even if it’s a bit nerdy or uncool.

Embrace who you are. Drop pretense. When we embrace ourselves, we stop wasting time and energy trying to be something we’re not.

Embracing who you are also means recognizing your weaknesses. You can only work on your weaknesses after you’ve admitted what they are and made a decision to change.

Broaden your view. Try taking a step back from your own beliefs and be open to others. Look outside your news circle and look at what’s happening around the country and world. The farther you look, the better your perspective will be. Don’t follow others. Forge your own ideas and beliefs.

Listen more than you speak. This is the only way to learn about people. Ask questions. Don’t argue your viewpoint. Try to understand theirs. Don’t assume you know their backstory.

Observe. Imagine what people’s lives must be like. Create backstories if you can’t find out actual ones. This is a great way to play around with character studies. You can learn a lot by watching.

Look for stories everywhere. Not only in books and movies, but in everything. We are surrounded by stories running around in raw form. Seek them out.

Take detours. Jump off the path now and then to find new views and people.

Give your full attention to everything you do. Too often we check out, getting lost in music, television, daydreams, worries. Grab hold of your attention and focus it on the task at hand. It will keep you grounded in the present and aware of time as it passes. The more aware you are, the better you will be at description and setting, not to mention character development and story. Plus you will end up with more memories of your own life.

Make choices, don’t just go with the flow. Guide your life as much as you guide your character’s lives. Making conscious choices for yourself will help you make choices for your characters.

Let down your walls. Let the people in your life know the real you—not the public version of you, but the you that dances in the kitchen when you cook and geeks out over Doctor Who. Whatever it is that defines you, let it show.

Take time to just be. We fill up our time with stuff, but the best time is when we slow down and simply are in the world. Focus on your breathing and on what’s around you. Stop and live moment to moment.

Observe without judgement.

Recognize everyone has a backstory that defines them. Be compassionate. You never know what’s going on with another person. Maybe they are cranky because of illness or worry. Give them the benefit of the doubt and choose calm over anger. Anger blocks engagement, thought and observation.

Pay attention. Stay grounded. Notice the birds and people. Feel the page between your fingers and the texture of your food. Drink in the details of life. They are rich and sustaining. Plus they give depth to your writing. You can’t write them if you don’t notice them.

What do you do to stay engaged?