>Tips for Writers: Listen


You carry a pen and paper with you at all times, don’t you? That’s okay. I forget sometimes, too. But I often kick myself when an idea comes to me and I’m without the tools of my trade. A borrowed pen and a paper napkin will do in a pinch of course, but I usually have a little notebook that will fit in a pocket and I almost always have a ballpoint pen on me, too.
I took a little trip last weekend and I didn’t have the notebook. I brought my tablet computer, but I was headed out to dinner with friends and didn’t want to take that along. But I was early, so stopped into a Barnes & Noble to browse, and the first thing I picked up was a packet of pocket-size Moleskine notebooks. There are cheaper notebooks to be had, of course, but this was an emergency, and the Moleskines are fine products. (I also fondled a large number of books, but kept reminding myself that I have no room for books and I also own a Kindle; somehow I managed not to buy any books.)
I got to the restaurant early and ordered a glass of wine at the bar to wait for my friends. Ideas had already been percolating so I took out my notebook and jotted some things down. And then a nearby conversation began to fill my head. I wasn’t intentionally eavesdropping, but the people were right around the corner of the bar and they weren’t exactly whispering, so I could hear every word. And it was fascinating. It wasn’t an intimate conversation, which would have been embarrassing (but possibly also fascinating), but the man was pouring his heart out to the woman about some trouble he found himself in. Without being obvious (at least I hope I wasn’t obvious), I began writing down what he said.
I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to use this “found dialogue.” I may not even want to use it. But there was emotion behind the words the man was speaking, and the notes I took—I hope—may help me tap into that emotion. But when you’re out, keep your ears open—you never know what you may hear.

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  1. >I read a short story once with the plot being that a creative writing student is told to watch out for everyday dialogue. The student then listens to a boyfriend/girlfriend row and is fascinated.

    Of course, this plot synopsis is hardly thrilling. All depends on how the story is told.

    I think the story was either in Best American or the O' Henry awards.

    Paul Epstein

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