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Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Duty of Observation

By Jill Earl

I’m reading Lavinia Spalding’s ‘Writing Away,’ a wonderful entry into the world of travel journaling. Scattered throughout the book’s pages are random quotes about writing taken from well-known to barely-known artists and travelers. Here’s what poet Mary Oliver had to say about one aspect of writing, 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.”

I agree with Ms. Oliver. Along with other artists, I believe that writers serve as society’s messengers. We take what we’ve acquired from our surroundings and present it to the world through our words.

For this process to take place, however, close attention to your surroundings is called for. Keep a notepad and pen or your PDA handy the next time you’re out. Glance at the mechanic servicing your car as he peers under the hood. Scan the crowd gathered for the campus protest meeting. Watch others in line as the barista whips up your half-caff, hazelnut creation. Peep at the couple comparing apples and oranges at the farmer’s market. Grin at your dog being spellbound by a butterfly just out of reach. Note anything. And everything.

The reward? Writing with the power to elicit laughter or sadness, or raising awareness of a cause or situation. Engaging words capturing your audience’s attention.

Observation. As a writer, it’s your duty to sharpen this skill so your writing grows stronger.

What writer wouldn’t want that?

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