We all have to do mundane and routine things to maintain our lives – errands, grocery shopping, yard work, and so on.
But, what if, instead of just drifting along with our routines, we considered at least some of our errands as ‘field trips’ for our senses?
We could use the sensory information we gather to enrich our scenes and our settings. And, in essence, we would be dedicating a little more time to our creative practice each week.
I realize that you will not be able to do this for every errands you have to run every week. But even if you did it for a few errands every so often you would reap the benefits for your writing and you would make those errands a little more interesting.
So, I am challenging you to pick a few errands this week and make them into writing research by paying a bit more attention to your environment. Make sure to take some notes as you go so you don’t lose all that valuable research!
Here are some places and some questions to get you started:
1) Grocery Store
We all have to eat so sooner or later, we’ll find ourselves at a grocery store.
What do you hear while you’re strolling the aisles? What do you smell in each section? What does the cart feel like in your hands? How does it feel when they move stuff around without notice? Do you have a ‘favourite’ section of the supermarket? Does your body feel different when you’re in that section?
You don’t have to limit yourself to these questions, of course, they are just an invitation to consider more aspects of your grocery shopping experience.
Do you have to wait around while your get your oil changed or your tires rotated? That’s an excellent time to go into observation mode.
How do the chairs feel? Or, if you have to stand to wait, what does the floor feel like underfoot? Is it clean or is it littered with bits and pieces of metal and plastic? Can you hear the sounds of the tools and machinery? What kinds of things can you see? Does their coffee have a specific taste? Are their any specific scents? What do they remind you of?
Our lives provide lots of opportunities for extended periods of waiting around but waiting around to renew your driver’s license or your car registration invokes a specific kind of dread.
That dread can, in itself, be a useful experience to reflect on. What does it feel like to you? Where does that dread settle in your body? What thoughts occur to you as you sit and wait?
Once you’ve explored that aspect of your DMV experience, move on to your more literal senses. What smells surround you? Is it just the smells of other people? Does the furniture smell? Can you smell ink? Paper? Cleaning supplies?
4) Waiting Room
No matter why you have to wait, Time tends to stretch in a waiting room.
If you want to make things a little more interesting, spend some time observing yourself, your environment, and the people around you.
What kind of sounds do you hear? Which ones are the loudest? Is there anything distinctive about the way the waiting room smells? Can you tell if the people around you are excited or nervous? How can you tell? What gives it away? What things can you see that signal ‘waiting room’ to you? What textures do you have to touch on your way in, or on your way out, or while you wait?
5) Playing Chauffeur
No matter how much you enjoy your passengers’ company, driving people around is not always fun – especially when you have to do it multiple times a day.
But, if you consider it as another opportunity to observe, you can make it a little less annoying.
What sounds do people make when they are getting in and out of your car? When someone is happy or angry or frustrated, you can feel it, but what are you actually observing that generates that feeling for you? Is it their time? Their posture? How they move? Their expression?
What do you smell while you’re driving? Do those smells come from inside or outside the car?
What can you hear? Can you hear other people’s cars or just your own? What kinds of clicks, ticks and whirs are part of your environment?
How does your body feel when you’re driving? Does ‘why’ you’re driving affect how your body feels in the car?
What does your steering wheel feel like? Your seatbelt? The stereo buttons?
Does being in the car affect how your snacks taste? Where do the crumbs from your snacks end up? What snacks are easiest to have in the car?
Deciding to observe your everyday experiences can help make routine tasks less boring and they can help you gather important details for your writing.
Meanwhile, though, I’m not trying to force false positivity here or make you look on the bright side.
You don’t have to smile, not even once.
But, since these dull bits have to be part of your life, you might as well get as much use out of them as you can.
Even if your characters aren’t going to share your exact experiences, you can use your observations to create richer descriptions of their environments and their actions. Those descriptions will give your readers a more immersive experience and help them connect with your characters and with you as a writer.
And that’s a pretty good result from some errands you had to do anyway, don’t you think?