Monday, October 29, 2012

The Art of Observation

Heighten Your Awareness & Strengthen Your Writing
by Ann Baldwin

When we read a good story or watch a great film, we’re being transported to a different environment through the use of our sense of sight and sound (either externally with our eyes and ears or internally with our mind’s eyes and ears), along with the use of words (either written or spoken). As writers, being aware of our surroundings and the effect our environment has on us is a valuable asset to our writing skills.

Sharpening our senses through the practice of writing down what we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel in our current surroundings will bring more depth, clarity, and emotion to our writing; this will allow our audience to better experience what we’re trying to convey. For example, when we hear a siren, our hearts beat faster with the anticipation of danger and a life or death situation at hand or when we see an eagle soaring across the sky, it brings an uplifting feeling of freedom, expansion, and peace.

Being able to re-create any type of environment or setting for our audience to experience is done through our own ability to describe in detail what a scene really looks, sounds, smells, and feels like.

While our sense of smell is directly connected to the part of our brain that triggers memories and emotions, we don’t use our nose, when reading a story or watching a film (although smell-a-vision films have been attempted a few times in our history). However, reading the words “homemade bread baking in the oven” or watching a movie scene of “fresh baked bread coming out of the oven” will trigger memories of our experience of smelling fresh baked bread, and our emotions and salivary glands will usually be stimulated.

Here are three quick exercises to fine-tune your senses and get their impressions into words on the page.

Exercise #1: For ten minutes, sit alone somewhere outside or inside with the windows open (if possible), where you won’t be interrupted, bothered, or disturbed by others. Now, listen to everything you hear and just write it down as you hear it. For example: a hammer pounding on wood off in the distance, a large commercial plane flying overhead, the wind blowing through the trees, a clock ticking, a dog snoring, etc.

All you’re focusing on is the sounds you hear and writing them down. Don’t worry or think about spelling, grammar, or punctuation; it’s not about creating the perfect description of what you hear (that will improve in time with practice). This exercise is about paying attention to your surroundings through your ears, listening to the sounds, and writing them down (close your eyes, if it helps, to listen more clearly).

Exercise #2: For ten minutes, sit alone somewhere outside or inside, where you won’t be distracted or interrupted by others. Now, look all around you and write down what you see, that’s it. For example: a seagull flying by, the ocean waves crashing on the beach, trees swaying back and forth, a garage door opening, a few people jogging down the road, a healthy green lawn, etc.

Just focus on the sights you see and write them down. Again, there’s no need to think or worry about proper sentence formation or finding the perfect words. This exercise is about paying attention to your surroundings through your eyes, looking at the sights, and writing them down (plug your ears, if it helps, to see more clearly).

Exercise #3: For ten minutes, sit alone somewhere outside or inside with the windows open, where you won’t be bothered, interrupted, or disturbed by others. Now, listen to what you hear, look at what you see, smell any scents, and notice how you feel, then write it down. For example: The sky is grey with dark clouds looming near, the wind is whipping through the trees, and it feels cold and gloomy. The sun broke through the clouds and put a beam of light on my face, birds are chirping, I feel warm, comforted, and hopeful. My cat is walking across the living room, meowing, and entered into the laundry room, I hear her frantically digging in the kitty litter box and litter hitting the wall and floor, I dread going in to clean up the mess. An angry-looking man is stomping down the sidewalk, he’s holding something heavy in his pants pocket, I feel a chill up my spine, and the hair is raised on my skin. A vine of new honeysuckle blossoms surrounds the gazebo and fills the air with a sweet aroma. A child is across the street eating an ice cream cone, humming a happy tune; I’m craving chocolate ice cream, etc. Again remember, it’s just an exercise about observing and paying attention to your surroundings and writing down what you see, hear, smell, and feel.

Here are a few more fun exercises following along the same lines (doing them blindfolded will heighten your other senses): A) Put a few different shaped and textured objects in front of you, touch each one of them with your hands, and write down a description of what they feel like. B) Place an assortment of different herbs, spices, condiments, or foods in front of you, smell each one, and write down a description of the scent and how you feel. C) Do a wine tasting or food tasting with an assortment of different kinds, smell and taste each one, and write a description. Have you ever smelled or tasted chocolate wine or garlic ice cream? They’re incredibly delicious and the aroma hypnotizes you (kind of like the scent of buttered popcorn in theaters or Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookies).

The more you practice these exercises, the more aware you become of not only your surroundings, but the details of what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel; which will strengthen your writing skills. You’ll find these exercises to be of value to you in other areas as well; they will quickly bring you into the present moment (the here and now) and help to stop the mind chatter that all of us experience, because we’re either thinking about the past or anticipating the future.

Play, have fun, and enjoy the experience ~ 

 The following 10 minute video by Louie Schwartzberg on gratitude has the most stunning images of Nature, meaningful message, and is the perfect companion for my article ~ Enjoy & Be Present!!!


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