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Bearing witness to the world around us

Writing through the senses

Being deliberate

I wanted to follow up my last writing tips post by talking more about the senses and what happens when we focus on each of the senses we have available to use in turn, deliberately. ‘Deliberately’ is the key word there because we’re aiming to notice the world around us with intention. When we notice, through the senses, we’re observing the world through writer’s eyes. Forgive the visual bias, because this is actually about bearing witness to our locality not simply ‘seeing things’. There are at least a couple of reasons why this is important:

  1. Writers are observers of the world – especially our local, specific world. ­
  2. Noticing things deliberately makes our writing more vivid.

That leads me to a deeper concept: when we feel frustrated, like there’s minimal contribution we can make to the world, observing it and writing it down is a kind of contribution. Noticing is minding, caring about, advocating for, and looking after. It may only feel like a small contribution but it’s still a contribution.

Like a muscle, writing gets stronger with practice. That’s why we call it a ‘writing practice’. And observing the world is a kind of writing. It may be a revelation to you that not all writing involves putting pen to paper. In fact, this is a wonderful thing. It means you can write when you’re not writing, when you don’t feel like writing, when you’re on a walk or sitting in an armchair or staring into space!

Try these sensory exercises

With all that in mind, here are some sensory exercises to try. If any of the senses aren’t available to you or if you experience them differently, adapt the exercises. Showing us your perspective on the world is important. After each of the following writing exercises, write down your response. That might be a list of words, ideas that came to you, a poem or the beginning of a story.

  1. Simply observe for five minutes then write about the specific details you saw, especially the colours.
  2. Spend five minutes considering hot and cold or the clothes touching your skin, the chair you’re sitting on, your shoes or the earth under your feet.
  3. For five minutes, consider the sounds you can hear in a quiet environment or a noisy one, in a busy place and an empty one.
  4. Drink a cup of tea or coffee or your favourite drink or simply sip a glass of water with lemon in it. Contemplate the taste for five minutes.
  5. Go room by room in your home and consider smells associated with each. Or smell a cup of coffee or lavender or a piece of soap or a slice of lemon for five minutes.
  6. Go to a place you associate with a particular atmosphere. For me, our local graveyard is especially peaceful, for example. Our local beach is often crowded in the summer and empty in the winter – and the atmosphere is very different. Try to conjure up that atmosphere in words.

You can invent your own sensory writing exercises using the above as starting points. Adapt them for new environments, places, characters, and sensations.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. If you’d like more exercises like these, take a look at the Small Steps Writing Guides.

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