The Writer in the Wild: Composing Prose Without a Notebook

If you’re a habitual writer, you likely have some form of a notebook on your person at all times. Whether you tap notes into a single, gargantuan file on your phone or carry a bag with six notebooks, each bearing a particular purpose (yes, the latter one is me), you probably have some faithful method of recording your thoughts and observations. But what about those rare, terrifying moments when you find yourself in a place without a notebook? How can you exercise your storytelling skill when you’re in a space where writing may seem uncouth or difficult, like during a haircut or a party? Of course, you could pull out your notebook and start scribbling, but you could also consider some thought-stirring alternatives.

   To practice your prose, you could start composing descriptions in your head. Look at an action, like snippets of hair falling to the ground or a student diving onto a couch, and generate metaphors. How, if you were writing about that same event or image in a story, might you alter the way you describe it? How do your surroundings, from the noises that occupy that space to the lights casting depth onto the scene, influence your descriptions? Exercising active, creative thinking will both help you craft your voice on the page and expand how you process your experiences.

   Along with these general descriptions, you can create personal writing challenges in the people and objects you encounter. Crafting fictional stories about the people in a space, whether at a concert or a grocery store, can prompt you to ponder how you shape your characters and encourage you to think more about all the lives outside of your own.

   And we can’t forget dialogue! Listen to the stories around you, whether a father is speaking to his child or two people are meeting for the first time. How might the relationship influence how they speak, and how does the setting  impact their discussion? You can even consider this conversational awareness into discussions that involve you. Where else could a sentence lead if the response changed, if something adjacent to the dialogue interrupted the next statement?

   Even when you don’t have a notes app or a journal at hand, you can challenge yourself to interact and observe like a writer. Restructuring the way you perceive your environment changes how you experience both the stories in your head and around your life.