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Thursday, June 03, 2010


The Power of Observation

“I love the line of Flaubert about observing things very intensely. I think our duty as writers begins not with our own feelings, but with the powers of observing.” Mary Oliver, poet.

With summer practically here, you definitely want to get out and enjoy the warm weather, but how about putting in some time sharpening your observation skills while you’re at it?

Put yourself into this scenario. You and the family are blissing out on the beach. Hubby’s catching some zzz’s, the kids are collecting sea treasures and you’re about to dive into that sizzling summer read. Stop. Lay the book aside, and use this opportunity to gather some fodder for your writing instead.

Let’s return to the scenario above. Really get into your surroundings. Smell the saltiness of the surf as you watch some folks roar through it on jet skis. Can you hear their yells? What about the sky overhead, how does it look? Can you think of another description other than ‘vivid blue, with puffy clouds floating through it’? Is the sand lukewarm, icy cold, or hot as it squishes between your toes?

Sometime ago, a friend and I had a delightful dinner at a local Italian restaurant. A basket of fresh bread started the meal, a golden loaf with crackling crust and chewy interior. The olive oil was a gorgeous chartreuse, the peppery bite lingering on my tongue. The wild mushroom risotto did it for me, though, with its velvety sauce, perfect al dente rice and mushrooms that were intriguing and earthy.

Another experience happened a couple of years ago, when some friends and I went kite flying on the dunes while on the beach. My kite was shaped like a seagull and we thrilled to see real ones swoop in to meet their ‘brother’. Our day ended as grayish-green thunderheads forced us inside to watch a spectacular light show.

By carefully taking note of your surroundings, you can add those little details that make your writing sing.

How are your own powers of observation? Test them out the next time you’re stealing a few moments at a cafe, trekking through a cool pine forest, or jammin' at a jazz festival. Your writing will thank you!

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