Sunday, January 19, 2014

Wake Up Your Wild Side

All writing begins with sense of adventure and an appetite for life. If you’re starting this year off safe in your comfort zone, perhaps it’s time to wake up your wild side and your imagination.

Start out by taking a good look at yourself. What makes you tick? What are you afraid of? What does that fear feel like? Knowing more about yourself and how you handle various situations makes you able to anticipate problems before they occur.

Make a list of your accomplishments during the last year or so. Also list problems you had and how you solved them. Did you get creative in resolving them? Then think back to when you were young. What did you do for fun? What turned you on? Perhaps you’ve been away from that spontaneity too long.

When opportunity knocks, do you answer the door or hide behind it? To take advantage of opportunities, you have to be ready.

First, get yourself in physical shape. While you may not have to climb mountains, you may have to conquer obstacles in the path of your career. The better shape you’re in physically, the better shape you’ll be in mentally. Exercise and eat right. You don’t have to go to extremes, just eat more fruits, veggies, and whole grains and go for a walk every day. And not a leisurely walk around the block, but a faster one around a few blocks. Increase the distance a bit every week.

Learn to recognize opportunity. This may come in the form of something you overhear or something you’ve read. Then give opportunity a chance. Don’t let that inner “No” take over. Ask yourself “What if?”

Look behind the scenes at situations. Go where you’re not supposed to. If you’re caught, make up an excuse. Think fast on your feet. Ask questions—lots of questions. Curiosity is one of the prime attributes of a good writer. It takes nerve to ask questions, especially if you’re not a journalist. But you’ll learn off-the-record, juicy information that may suggest nonfiction book and article ideas as well as fictional plotlines.

When you stay as you are, you get stale. Your life and your writing remains static. Resolve to learn something new. Take a class. Take time to follow one of your interests that you’ve been ignoring for a while. Start working on that book idea that’s been gnawing at you. Or learn some new information about a subject that you’ve been interested in for a while.

Learn to eavesdrop on others’ conversation. Sure, it’s impolite, but it may yield something juicy. When you go out to eat with someone, keep one ear tuned to them and one to the tables around you. You never know what you’ll hear. It may just turn out to be something you can use in your next short story or novel or perhaps it may spark a new investigative article.

One of the best places to eavesdrop is a coffeeshop or café. Often people who haven’t seen each other in a long time meet over coffee to talk their heads off, or people meeting for a not-exactly-a-date first date, or to discuss something important, will do it in a coffee shop. Take an older couple at Starbucks. After listening for a while, it was obvious they had met through an Internet dating site, had chatted with each other for a while, and were finally meeting. The conversation yielded some interesting facts about what older people are looking for in a mate.

On another occasion, a family from Germany had stopped at Starbucks for a break while sightseeing. Even though they were speaking German, it was interesting to see how they reacted to their surroundings and each other.

Or what about the younger couple and their two kids at a fast-food restaurant. While the mother rocked her newborn in a stroller, her slightly older son put on a tantrum. The scene that followed brought up some interesting questions about sibling rivalry and how new parents deal with it.

Finally, do something that normally turns you off. Never been to a strip club? Go. Afraid of what you’ll find out about yourself? Skeptical about mediums? Attend a séance. Do nursing homes creep you out? Walk into one, find a lonely person and talk to them. Avoid making judgements. Just let what happens happen.

Busting out of your comfort zone to seek out unique experiences will not only make you a more complete person and bring authenticity to your writing, but also it may suggest new ideas and new work. While you don’t have to get into the ring with the bull like Ernest Hemingway, you can at least watch from the stands and gain an insight into bullfighting.

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