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Portrait of a Writer in a Waiting Room

March 20, 2009

The next time you’re expecting to be left sitting in a waiting room for a while, or standing in line a long time, take a notepad and pen or pencil with you. In the first five minutes, take notes on everything you take in through your senses–what you see, hear, smell, taste, feel. Include also what you’re thinking as you do this and any physical discomfort.

If you have time left still, go ahead and turn what you just wrote into a scene. Yes, I mean a scene about you writing all that stuff down, with everything going on in the background. If you have time to keep going and also write what’s going on as you’re writing the actual story, remember to include the exact quote from the moment you thought about how silly you feel.

If someone is waiting with you, show them what you wrote. Ask them what they remember happening during that time. Especially since they weren’t actively paying attention as you were, it will probably be rather different. The more time that passes, by the way, the greater the discrepancy will be.

Do make your best effort to have someone with you who will be cooperative. If possible, take another writer along, and do this together. This works best if you have someone you can trade papers with and see how differently another person viewed the same circumstances as you. But if you can’t arrange to meet up with someone from your local writer’s group to do this, you can get a similar effect simply by letting a non-writer friend or loved one read your exercise and asking them what they experienced, saw, felt, etc.

Note, if you’re having trouble with description, this will also help with that.

Writers’ groups that meet offline can do this at their regular meeting if desired, but it works best if something is happening besides people taking notes in an otherwise empty, soundless room, so consider taking a field trip to a place with lots of distractions if you meet in a usually-ideal location. Please also tell the group where you got this exercise from.

You may retype your scene in the comments below if you’d like to share it.


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