A few days ago, I was walking up the hill by my building when a snowball whizzed by me. I looked around but didn’t see any possible culprits.
Later that day, I was at my desk, staring out the window as I often do, when a boy crept up to the edge of the parking lot, looked around to make sure no one was watching, and then scooped up a mittenful of snow, packed it, and hurled it. As the parking lot is elevated, he had concealment on his side; like me, the ambushed victim would probably look around for the mischief maker but not look up. And just to be sure he woudn’t be seen, the boy ducked.
I watched him for a while longer. He was patient. Despite the cold, he waited and waited for another target. Periodically, he’d look around to make sure no one was watching. During one of these look-outs, he spotted me. I stayed still until he looked away.
In actuality, I don’t think he really could have seen me; I was a fair distance away watching through wood-slatted blinds. But in that moment, a story was born. I was no longer myself but a character, as was this boy. And in the story, these characters’ eyes had met. So what would the boy do now that he had been discovered? Would the woman become a permanent target of his? What would the woman do? Would she want to know this boy or would she want to see him punished? Would a relationship develop between them? What if someone got seriously injured with one of his snow missiles?
Suddenly, I had a new story on my hands. I made some notes and have been letting ideas percolate since. In the meantime, thinking about those two characters helped me to think in a new way about characters from another story. All because I looked out the window. Stories are everywhere. As writers, we have to be willing to let them surprise us with their sudden appearance, and then we have to be willing to take the time away from ‘our writing’ to write them. That’s why I stare out the window; it’s why I take long walks. And I never think of this time as wasted. I don’t think of it as time when I should have or could have been writing. I think of it as writing time.