As a mother, it’s difficult to find the time or the energy to write. Often, I don’t have one or the other, and so nothing gets accomplished. But that isn’t to say I don’t work on my poetry or my stories every day.

There is more to the writing process that physically sitting in my chair and working (although, without that, there is no writing to speak of). On the contrary, my mind is always working on my stories or my poetry. I’m always considering little things that need revision, reworking, inclusion, or more researching.

The best part? Those things can be done anywhere.

When I do have some free time and a bit of spending money – those days when I can get out of the house on my own without having to run errands – I often like to go to restaurants or coffee shops. Unlike other writers, I don’t always take pen and paper with me. In fact, the majority of the time, I’m lucky if I have a pen in my purse somewhere, much less a pad of paper to write on.

Many may not realize it but going out and eating by yourself can be one of the best opportunities to work on your writing. I like to think of it as a dual-purpose exercise in writing and mindfulness.

When you go out by yourself (and make a point to avoid playing on your phone the whole time) you become very conscious of three things: 1) yourself, 2) the environment around you, and 3) everyone else.

Let me give you an example of my own experience the other day…

A couple of days ago, I had a chance to go to town after dropping my son off at pre-K. He’s a special needs child and so his pre-K starts later than regular classes, so I was free around lunchtime until the early afternoon.

I decided to stop a local bistro-style restaurant and, as I’d had a light breakfast earlier in the day, was hungrier than usual. I’d been thinking about trying the restaurant’s old-fashioned chicken ‘n dumplings – a down-home favorite in my little southeastern corner of the United States. I ordered that, a side of fresh-cut fruit, and a sweet, iced tea (another Southern US favorite).

While I waited, I took in the view. The place was bright and decorated plainly. The tables were simple and there were far more tables in the space than there should’ve been for such a small space. Most of the other patrons were people a bit older than me, many in their forties or fifties. A few were around my age or younger, they seemed to be having lunch with friends or perhaps lovers.

Most restaurants that I enjoy dining at have background music playing, but this one did not. The waitresses were dressed very casually – jeans and t-shirts. They were all women except for the cooks and bus boys. They were different ages. They were also very busy (it was lunchtime after all).

When my meal arrived, my chicken n’ dumplings were served in an individual cast-iron Dutch oven with a lid. When I opened it, a cloud of steam escaped and revealed the delicious, shredded chicken and thick, floury dumplings in thick aromatic gravy.

And instantly, I was reminded of my grandmother and my childhood spent eating home-cooked meals with my family. It made me think of all the elderly women in my life. Memories, sporadic and unconscious, moved through my mind. Tales wove themselves together, emotions surfaced, expectations relived. Disappointments and regrets rehashed…

So why am I telling you this? And what has it to do with the writing process?

I had some free time. I went out for lunch. I ordered chicken n’ dumplings.

My point is this. Even something a simple as going out to lunch rewards you with a rich tapestry of information that, if you can harness it and utilize it, will lend something beautiful and real to your writing. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a memoir, a poem, or an epic fantasy about elves battling demons.

Those elderly women I thought of become characters. Waitresses, bystanders, and bus boys become the background noise of your work. It gives a sense of reality and time to the events of your stories. It breathes life into your poetry and gives substance to your prose.

Whether you are physically seated in front of your manuscript or not, everything you do can be valuable to your process. Use everything. No matter how small. No matter how insignificant it may seem.

Your life is an amazing story. Properly distilled, any experience you have – no matter how mundane it may seem – can and will breed countless other amazing stories and works of art.

All you have to do is pay attention.

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