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How Other People Live: The Writer’s Curse and Blessing

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

spooky house

I don’t claim to be a great writer, but I’m a regular, long-time writer since my youth. I write fiction and non-fiction and have tried my hand at short stories, novels, poems, plays, books, workbooks, articles, essays, research papers…you name it, I’ve written it. One characteristic of writers seems to be an interest in observing the actions and guessing at the thoughts of the people around us. Writers like my adored Agatha Christie display a knack for nailing down the smallest details of human behavior. Being friends with a writer always puts you at risk for having one or more details of your life appear in the author’s works – hopefully well-disguised if the characterization is unflattering!

When I run in the morning darkness, I get to indulge my interest in the normal daily habits of other people. As I run by, I get a glimpse into the lighted homes of my neighbors. That early, not many of them are actually up, but the few that are seem even more interesting, especially if they are not normally early risers. I know my houses!

My excellent sense of smell lets me in on even more secrets. I can smell the cigarette smokers, the pot smokers, the cigar smokers (believe it or not, two toughs in my neighborhood bust out the cigars at 5 am), the dryer sheets of the people doing laundry, the body wash of someone taking a shower if they’ve cracked the bathroom window, the sausage frying (naughty to eat sausage for a weekday breakfast). I’ve been running this same neighborhood for 30+ years. Once I smelled a man’s cologne that I didn’t recognize, so I turned around and sprinted, all elbows and a**holes, right back home. Safety first!

Although now I run slowly, I don’t see very well anymore, so it is truly just a delightful, speculative “glimpse” as I plod by: a delightful nudge to my imagination that often turns into an idea for a story or article. A hint is enough. If I ever end up wearing glasses all the time or getting Lasik, it would only be to better see what’s going on in a house I run by. I’m committed to my poor distance-sight because it makes the world so much lovelier. People, houses, cityscapes, ice cream cones, nature, myself: it all looks way more attractive without 20-20 vision. (Don’t worry – I wear distance glasses when I’m driving!)

I’m grateful for the writers who expertly explore the many aspects of human behavior and how other people live. I like to read even more than I like to write, and my admiration never dims for authors who can create a comprehensive picture of a character or scene.


Kathryn Hauer, a Certified Financial Planner ™, adjunct professor, and financial literacy educator has written numerous articles and several books. She works to help clients and readers understand and act on complex financial information to keep them and their money safe. She functions as a strong advocate and guiding light for her clients as they move through murky and unfamiliar financial and career worlds. Read more on her website.

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