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Celeste Ng Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 2.11.14

“Like many writers, I spend a lot of time by myself, so I sometimes get stuck in the echo chamber of my own brain. The best remedy I’ve found, and the fastest way to inject new energy into my work, is eavesdropping on others. I go to a cafe, settle down with some tea, and listen to the conversations around me. My favorite coffee shop has a group of elderly regulars whose discussions range from the hilarious to the profound: one day, they may rehash poignant memories of their childhoods; another day, I might hear, ‘You don’t hear much about Princess Diana these days, do you?’ ‘Er—Princess Diana died.’ ‘Did she? What a pity. Recently?’ Sometimes I hear actual material to use in stories, but more often, the act of eavesdropping itself is transformative. Whether the topic is politics, the state of someone’s marriage, or the new sandwich guy with the facial tattoo, listening to others talk gets me focused on people again: their myriad and idiosyncratic interests, their biases and blind spots, all that they conceal and reveal—on purpose and accidentally—as they gossip and confide and debate. People and their relationships are the root of fiction, and an hour quietly listening is often just what I need to get myself going again.”
—Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You (Penguin Press, 2013)

Reader Comments

  • quescaisje says...

    I love this! I think I'm going to follow your lead. Once, in line for a movie, I overheard one young man say to another, "Man, I don't eat sandwiches no more. It ain't worth it." That line went into my first novel, verbatim.

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