Running commentary is an amazing tool, not just for life, but for writing as well. I can’t remember who taught me this or when I started, but it’s something I do on a daily basis.
I have this problem that my mind tends to wander and focus on negative thoughts. This happens when I’m waiting for the bus, walking during lunch, or even while at work! I start thinking about something bad that happened to me 10 years ago and how it’s ruined my life and how I can’t do anything right and it just keeps going and going until I’m all riled up and become anxious. Over absolutely nothing important.
One way to stay focused is to remain grounded in the moment. And I do that by observing every single detail around me.
Example while waiting for the bus: The man beside me is old and wearing a tan leather coat. His pants are tucked into his boots. A young woman stands on my other side with the hood of her Canada Goose jacket pulled up over her head. I can hear someone’s headphones blaring music, it sounds like really good techno music. A crack runs across the pavement in the bus platform. The tree across the platform is losing it’s leaves. A red bird sits on the highest branch. It tweets every few minutes. And here comes the bus.
The key is to constantly observing your surroundings. It works to stop my mind from wandering towards miserable thoughts.
My driving instructor taught me running commentary to help me calm down while driving. It’s the simple act of observing everything around me in the car and keeping me focused on the cars around me. Instead of being a passive driver, I become an active driver.
Example: I’ve turned into the street. I am in the left lane, now I am switching lanes into the right lane. I glance into my rearview mirror and there’s a red car. He accelerates and I signal and merge after he’s passed. As I approach the intersection the light is green and the way is clear. A pedestrian stands at the corner but doesn’t cross. The car in front of me is slowing down, I might change lanes. Check the left lane but no, it’s full, I’ll just stay here.
And Finally, Writing.
Using running commentary keeps me always observing my surroundings. This helps while writing to ground a scene with key details. You don’t have to throw in every single detail about the bus platform, but one or two main details will help the reader visualize the scene in their minds. It’s also really helped me while describing characters, whether it’s the tan coat or the socks being tucked into the socks. Key details can say a lot about a character’s personality.