The art of the overheard

Be inspired by what you overhear in the world.
By Alicia Anstead, Writer Editor-in-Chief | Published: June 21, 2013


photo-65Earlier this month, I took a break from writing and visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City. It was free Tuesday, and I wanted to see the June roses in full regalia. The garden was packed with school children on field trips, and they were richly enjoying the sunshine and flora. I watched their delight with wonder. And then I overheard a girl say:  “This is Nature. It’s beautiful. It makes my nose sing.” How perfect is that? My next thought: Where could I use that line?

The art of the overheard is something I learned while studying fiction writing years ago with novelist and teacher Anne Bernays. Each week, the writers in our group would collect overheards and report them during class meetings. We had many laughs, but the overheards also fueled our creative spirit and productivity. The exercise changed the way I listen in and to the world. Instead of merely eavesdropping, now I was a reporter and the world was my assignment. To this day, I use a small notebook (always in my bag) or my smartphone (always on my person) to record notes about what I hear in my travels. Back at my desk, I use the material for work I’m doing or even a Facebook post.

What have you overheard lately? How do you use overheards? What are the best places for hearing people? (I like subways, museums, airports and the checkout line at nearly any store.) Keep your ears open for these organically generated bons mots. Who knows? Maybe you, too, will be handed a nugget such as: “It makes my nose sing.”