Enhancing the Amazing Ability to Take Notice

How are your observation skills doing? Because mine TOTALLY need brushing off. | lucyflint.com

Can I tell you something? Sometimes when I sit down to write a descriptive passage, I feel like I'm going through my days blind and deaf. 

How else to explain the total blankness I feel, when I need to sketch out the elementary parts of a setting?

I start to worry about myself. About my vision. About my sense of hearing. Because all my descriptions come up flat.

Does this happen to you? 

Writing shows me, over and over again, how dull I get to the real world. How little I've actually paid attention to what's going on around me. How unspectacular my observations are.

This isn't a good state for a writer to be in. 

At least half of our job description must be: Pay attention. 


I want to get better at this, friends. For the sake of my writing (who needs another lame description?), but also for the sake of my living: I don't want to be in a fog all the time. 

I'm pretty sure that paying attention is one of those "Use it or lose it" skills. My writing is begging me to get better at this!

So here's how I want to change, how I want to grow my ability to observe:

- No distractions. We all know that we're living distracted most of the time, yes?

While I technically understand that, I can too easily forget how much it's costing me, as a writer and an observer.

Writing flat descriptions? Having zero material to draw from when it comes to setting scenes? Not okay! 

So here's to putting down the iPhone and unplugging the headphones. Here's to actually looking hard at what is going on around me.

- Go slow. Racing around is basically the antithesis of noticing.

When I move quickly, when I operate on glances and quick snatches, I only catch the most surface details (if I catch anything at all).

If I wait out my first observations, if I settle in a bit, then I can catch the second wave of details, and then maybe the third. I notice the deeper things, the interesting things.

- Fight the blur effect. It's too easy for my brain to laze on autopilot and to report back: tree, tree, tree, (yawn) tree.

But if I ask myself to see specifically, to pull meaning out of the blur, I can do it. I can finally see: maple, pine, pear, oak

And since each word has its own personality, each detail its own connotation, those specifics matter.

- Wait for the telling detail. Observing gets so much more interesting--for me at least--when I come across something unusual.

The little detail that juxtaposes the rest of the picture. The one thing out of place. The note that jars, that stands out, that goes a different direction, that puts a new spin on the rest of the picture.

That contrast always draws me in: it gives my imagination something to wrestle with, intriguing blanks to fill.

And that's where observation fuels storytelling.


So that's how I'll be reframing my downtime in waiting rooms, in grocery store checkout lines, in my kitchen as I'm watching dishes.

I'm going to turn it into storytelling gold, honing my skills as an observer of the world.

How about you?