Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Looking at the Same-Old Same-Old in a Different Way
Our power of observation, one of the best tools we have available as writers, gets rusty when we grow too accustomed to our surroundings.
Three years ago, when my first grandchild was six-months-old, she gave me a wonderful lesson in looking at common things in a new way. Talia, for instance, was fascinated by anything electronic. The television stayed off most of the time because she wouldn't take her eyes off the screen when it was on. The laptop computer enthralled her the same way, and she thought it was loads of fun to lunge for the keyboard and make exciting things happen. And if she was allowed to get close enough, she even tried to taste it.
A tall pile of magazines was a temptation not to be ignored. She toppled the stack many times...and tasted the covers. She even tasted my sweater when I held her in my lap.
So today I'm looking at the television screen, and the computer, a stack of magazines, even my sweater, and wondering what Talia saw that I don't see. Color? Movement? Texture? Or was everything just a potential teething ring? After all, we did catch her chewing on the coffee table.
There's a lesson here, of course. As writers, we need to stay alert to our surroundings, do things that make us see the same old stuff in a new way. We tend to take the same route to the grocery store, order the same meal at a frequently visited restaurant, wear the same clothes on Sunday, follow an orderly routine first thing in the morning, or before going to bed.
What happens if we change it up a bit? Take the long way around when we drive to the store and pay attention to what we see along the way? Go to that favorite restaurant, but order something we've never ordered before and savor every bite?
Forcing ourselves to look at ordinary things in new ways can help us write better descriptions. What do you see when you look at your laptop? What do you think Talia saw when she stared at the television?
Have you tasted a sweater lately? Or a book? Smelled your garden-fresh tomato?
What do you do to sharpen your power of observation?