Teach Writers To Gather Snippets!

During my time working in New York, the New York City Board of Education had mandated at least ninety minutes of writing and reading must be part of every school day. During that same time I looked in too many writing folders and notebooks to see that this was not necessarily always happening. Unfortunately writing had been relegated to second place behind reading -and sadly it was a long way behind!

However, in classrooms where brave and progressive teachers dwelt, there were signs of genuine progress towards the accepted standards. In these classes student were being encouraged to write for their own purposes across a range of genres. They were being alerted to the craft of writing. Their teachers enlisting the support of numerous writers to teach their students to write with greater confidence and clarity. Students were consistently alerted to the importance of becoming observers; to eavesdrop on the world around them.

This eaves dropping is a life source to any writer. Ah yes, a word whispered here, an utterance there, and all within the reach of alert ears!


As each new day unfolds, I find myself listening for little snippets of conversation, little word encounters, that may form part of future writing pieces. I collect them in my notebook, so that I have a reference list of quotes for my writing projects. I recently found myself re-reading some of my older notebooks and reprising snippets.

The following quotes form part of my NYC eavesdropping research:

“I don’t know why they stock ostrich, I would much prefer buffalo”
Source: Park Slope Food Co-op Shopper

“I only sell good quality, you look, Raybans only $6!
Source: Canal Street Market Stall

“What’s so romantic about living in a lighthouse? Let me tell you, it’s just me and a lot of fish – And I hate fishing!”
Source: Lighthouse keeper in radio interview

“Keith came into school this morning and announced that his pet snake had died. I could tell he was upset so I allowed him time to compose himself. So he goes to the back of the room, drinks a bottle of that blue juice and then begins throwing things around the room. That blue juice is so chock full of sugar –We’re the ones who should be drinking it – Then we could keep up with them!”
Source: Teacher

“I have seen the future and it is OPEN”
Source: Sign outside Tilley’s Cafe, De Kalb Avenue, Clinton Hill Brooklyn

“Stop your gum thumping!”
Source: Man in street to friend

“I taught seventh grade for three years and then I realized I wasn’t a morning person –AND I didn’t like kids!”
Source: Woman overheard in café

“Sometimes I think the whole world is a tuxedo and I’m a pair of brown shoes”
Source: Woman at lunch at Columbia University.

“My mother always warned us not to have anything to do with alcohol or drugs and then she changed her mind completely –she sent us to university!”
Source: Woman on television


This is fodder to the writer within. It feeds potential topics. It assists me to envision a scene in my writing. Gathering these valuable snippets is a never ending project though, so listening to voices and snatches of conversation whether on the subway, on the street, in the park, at a school, or in cafes, it is the stuff of writing ideas.

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