Eavesdropping is rude, or at least that’s what your mom always told you. And it’s good advice… except when it isn’t.

For a writer, overheard snatches of conversation can provide a wealth of material. They can spark a story idea, just when you need inspiration. They can provide insight into the thought patterns of people who can be very different from you. They can offer useful examples of how people really talk in certain settings and under given conditions.

And let’s face it, in our brave new world of constant connection and – alas – too little silence, strangers are mind-numbingly forthright in spilling out their woes to a captive audience. How many times have you overheard a cell phone conversation that never should have found its way to a public square or amongst strangers in a train cabin.

As writers, we can’t help but catalogue some of these snippets away for future use. And they help us to file away new ideas for stories and new character voices.

So, no doubt about it. Eavesdropping is still is rude, and it’s what I teach my own children. But for a writer, it’s still an ideal way to gather material. After all, it’s not my fault if, even with all my best intentions, the people on my subway line or in my hotel lobby insist on screaming out their most intimate secrets to the world. What’s a writer to do?

So, writers, are you eavesdroppers? Do  overheard conversations or situations find their way into your work?