#28 When to Pay Attention
On Eavesdropping, Being Nosy, and Finding Stories in Your Everyday
I love drama. It’s probably one of my favourite things; messy situations and complications almost always draw my eye. Other people’s of course, my own just makes my head ache. When I was a kid my family used to laugh at how deep in other people’s business I could get. I was nosy. I still am. It’s a quality I’m most proud of because it means I remain curious. Despite how frustrating or even upsetting other people’s stories can be, especially on the internet, I want to know about them.
I’m the friend whose eyes glaze over in a restaurant because I’m concentrating so hard on the fight between the couple two tables down. I want to know what they’re saying, why, and what sparked the fight. I get a little spark of joy any time I have the chance to while away an afternoon sitting at a coffee shop watching the world go by. Bonus points if I happen to be at a café in Paris.
The thing is, this insatiable curiosity about the lives of others and how they go about living their lives is what made me a really good reporter and an excellent writer. Paying attention to the world around you gives your imagination and your stories fodder. It fills out quirks in a character or instills nuance in a piece of design. Noticing the shapes of the world around you and the pitch and tenor of a unique voice are things your brain will put away for later and when you’re creating a character or bringing to life an idea, it’ll show up and infuse the flat thing on the page with life and personality.
When I was a journalist, I saw a story in everything. Any new person I met was a potential story. Either for the newspapers where I worked or the fiction I was experimenting with. People are interesting if you give them the chance to be and the more you pay attention and potentially follow up with questions or research, you’ll find they have unique stories that you can help share. It’s another way of learning and then applying what you’ve seen to your approach to storytelling, whether you’re crafting a LinkedIn page or developing a marketing campaign.
In my own writing, I actually cannot create a well-rounded character without thinking about a trait or twitch or way of taking up space that I have seen out in the world. It’s how you get to specific, animate, detail in the stories you craft. Simply by paying attention.
You also see the world new ways when you do this. The magic of the mundane comes to life for you when walking down the street and you notice the cracks on the sidewalk, the shuffling stride of a stranger, or the particular and unique grey tones of winter bark on a tree.
For those of you stuck on where to start in telling your unique story, I challenge you to spend the next week paying closer attention in all your interactions. Whether it’s the way someone tilts their head on a video call or the particular way your child scrunches their nose when they smell something new or unpleasant. Smell the world around you and take note of it all. Write it down and hopefully that’ll give it a place to spend time in your memory until you need it. My hope and bet is that after that week, you’ll notice something particularly of interest that’ll spark your next great story or refine and add depth to the one you’re already working on.
Get nosy, eavesdrop, and don’t feel bad about it. You’re here to live so why not dive deep into the many ways in which people show up in the world to do just that?
A Story Well Told
One of the smartest, wisest, most brilliant women I know wrote a book and it launches today. It’s called Do Better and it’s by Rachel Ricketts a social justice educator and spiritual activist. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy and whew, chile, it is just magic. Unflinching as it deals with a hard topic for a lot of people: racism and fighting for social justice. It is vulnerable as Rachel shares her own often heart-hurting experiences to help teach and provide real life examples to some of the concepts she helps break down. It is bold in it’s language and description of what BI&POC face in the world today. It is also revolutionary and ambitious in it’s intention to help each reader find a path to doing better through spiritual activism. It is a kindness and I really do encourage you to check it out.
I am so passionate about the lessons to be learned in the book that I’m planning another giveaway. This time just for newsletter subscribers. Keep an eye out for another note from me on Thursday with details.
Also, if you’re enjoying this or if there’s something you’d like me to cover in a future letter—an element of your storytelling you may be struggling with, please let me know by leaving a comment below. I’m here to help.
Thanks for reading and I’ll “see” you next week. Whatever the world may bring, there will always be important stories that need you to tell them. I’ll be here to help.