The greatest writing advice I can possibly give you: Be creepy on the bus.

Friday, November 1, 2013

I lack good hand-eye coordination. I've known this for a long time. It's okay. I accept my shortcomings. Being generally unco is something you come to accept as part of your life. Walking into walls, tripping on flat surfaces, being unable to catch anything thrown to you even from a short distance. I did most of my schooling by distance, so I didn't have to go through the horror of being picked last in P.E. very much.

I'm nineteen now. In the state of Queensland, you can get a provisional license when you're seventeen, I believe, but I'm still on my learner's permit, largely due to this whole brain-hand disconnect and the frequency with which I entirely forget which way to turn the wheel (there is something that confuses me a great deal about reversing. I expect the direction of wheel-turnage to be the opposite, and it is not).

I remain hopeful! After all: your brain continues to develop until well into your twenties. (This is why I am not much of a drinker of alcohol. I am very keen on my brain cells reaching their full potential. Also I have a great deal of love for my liver, and other internal organs). I am taking driving lessons, and my driving instructor panics only very rarely! (Driving instructors are a tough sort though, in my experience. Not easily shaken.)

As a result of being unlicensed, I spend a great deal of time on public transport. Which I love. I realise this makes me a complete and utter weirdo. I don't really take the train with enough frequency for it to become painfully boring. I hate to think what it would be like to take the train every day and not be a creative sort.

Here is why trains and buses (and ferries!) are wonderful if you are a writer:

You can very subtly listen in on conversations.

The more you listen to conversations, the more natural the dialogue you write is going to sound. I like to listen to interesting speech patterns - I think the way people phrase things and the pauses in their speech are really interesting - sometimes I imagine how their words would be punctuated, how they would appear on the page, because I tend to picture written words when I think.

I also like paying attention to funny things people repeat. In Vanuatu I met a man who said at the end of every sentence 'but you probably know more than I do!' I did not, in fact, as he was talking about living in wartime Vanuatu, which I knew nothing about. I think when you're writing, repeated phrases are a good way of identifying and differentiating certain characters, if done right.

Listening in on and not participating in conversations is also really good practice in observing how people relate to each other. When you're talking to someone you're paying attention to what they're saying, and what you're saying, and whether they're interested. There's a lot in your head. When you're watching you can try and decode people's relationships, see how people mirror each other, notice changes in tone. You see more when you go third-person. (Elderly people have some of my favourite conversations on the train. I can't very well tell them how awesome they are though, without it being weird.)

You can make up stories about everyone you see.

I think this is great practice for coming up with ideas and figuring out plots and characters. I think we should get rid of this concept that every idea is brilliant and sacred and must be retained because what if we one day run out? And replace it with the concept that you can have a thousand ideas a day, that the more you use your imagination the easier they come, that material is everywhere and ideas are limitless.

So I am always practicing my skills in coming up with unique ideas (as unique, of course, as an idea can actually be when we live in a world where everything's been done before, a million times). Of course the lives of everyone I see are far more exciting in my head than their business attire may betray.

You can add to your memory bank of interesting physical characteristics. I find descriptions in stories that are just a laundry list of everything about a character to be incredibly boring and actually convey very little for all their adjectives. I try to describe my characters in terms of what stands out about them, and seeing lots of different people every day and imagining how you would describe them in the fewest words is a good way to practice this. (See? Even when I'm not writing, I'm practicing writing! Yes, I know, I'm fooling no-one).

And it doesn't have to be physical characteristics! What are they doing? What are they reading? How exactly are they falling asleep? (I often fall asleep on the train, but I do the thing where my head jerks forward and hurts my neck and I keep waking up. It's unpleasant. Watching people fall asleep on the train is interesting, because it's this very vulnerable thing in a public space.) What ideas do these things give you about the sort of person this is?

If you want to be slightly less creepy, you can actually talk to people!

I am shy and a bit awkward, but people talk to me lots on the bus and train. I wonder whether this is because I'm little and I have a rounded face and wear dresses a lot. Being non-threatening is probably a good way to get people to talk to you. If you don't want to talk to people, you don't have to! (We have a really wonderful thing on Queensland trains called 'the Quiet carriage' if you want some peace. Though people don't always respect it. We also have wi-fi on lots of trains, which is pretty awesome, and what I am currently using to post this.)

But I have had lots of interesting conversations and met lots of people I wouldn't have otherwise encountered if I'd been driving. Oversharers are some of my favourite people. I am probably one of the few people who does want to hear your life story.

I had a great conversation with a bus driver recently, who was teaching himself how to complete a Rubix cube at every red light, about learning the piano, and muscle memory, and about how learning new things might not result in any financial gain but is its own reward. (I also feel much more positive about life when I meet really cheerful people.) (I encounter very, very few unpleasant bus drivers in south-east Queensland, and heaps of really nice ones. Which is great. It's very understandable for people to become jaded in that job.)

I had a chat at a bus stop on the Sunshine Coast with an elderly man waiting for the same bus, about the marvels of modern phones and what newspapers are reputable these days. I met a girl that same week at another bus stop on the Sunshine Coast, who was very helpful telling me about which bus to catch and also told me about the various schools she had been to, and how much trouble she had had with being bullied (she was much happier at a new, specialised school).

I think public transport is pretty magic. I think if the buses are running on time and you can have a nice chat with a stranger then life is pretty good.
Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground