“Writer’s block … is simply a failure of ego.” — Norman Mailer
There is a shark in my computer. It has been swimming around, lurking with a steel sailboat gliding above the page. There is a semblance of conflict, characterization, and setting standing on the shore, watching it. Unfortunately, there are also large patches on blank white space in between all those elements.The picture, then, is not easy to make out, even for me.
In other words, I’m stuck.
For days I have tried to tackle my shark and for days I have added a laboriously extracted sentence or two. So today, rather than torturing myself and the shark, I participated in a little exercise.
I sat in a public place, (in this case the student union building on my campus), hid myself in a corner where I could observe but not be conspicuous (mainly to avoid students approaching me outside my office hours with questions), and just listened, writing down any verbal exchange that caught my ear. I stayed there for about thirty minutes. I didn’t think about what I was writing down, just transcribed fragments on my notepad.
When I got back to my office, I looked over the exchanges I had noted. The back and forth, the rhythms of them shook some cobwebs off my brain. I came away with one line I will use in my story; from that one line I thought of an entire exchange to add tension to the conflict.
I love this Eavesdropping activity and use it often. It is particularly helpful for those who do not have a natural ear for dialogue, hate writing it because it feels forced, or just want some inspiration. You don’t have to be working on something already–select a line you hear to the be the first line of your story. See where it takes you.
“Go to the desk. Stay at the desk. Thrive at the desk.” — William Matthews