Pay attention. Bribe it extravagantly if you have to. Attention is the writer’s secret weapon, because what we pay attention to will reveal itself to us in unexpected ways.
Details matter to our readers – unique, surprising, I-hadn’t-noticed-that details. Isn’t that one of the reasons we read? I know it thrills me when a narrative elbows me in the ribs and shows me something I hadn’t seen before, or had seen but not really paid attention to.
In addition, the particulars of what we notice are unique. Alice LaPlante, in The Making of A Story, points out that “the very individual nature of noticing is your greatest strength as a writer.”
Exercise: adapted from the afore-mentioned book. (Chapter One, page 35)
Take a walk with a writing buddy (or the members of your writing group). Each of you should take notes on what you notice as you go about your walk – but no discussion, no pointing out, “Look at that hat!”
After the walk, share your observations and note how different they are. Some writers focused on the landscape, others on the people. Maybe one person ignored all that and noticed only the air and light. Same walk – entirely different observations.
Then follow LaPlante’s advice:
“Now, notice what you noticed. No, go further: tell yourself the audacious thing that because you noticed, it matters… Because here’s the important thing: creative work comes from noticing. You are being given a warning, an intimation of something, and that something is the creative urge, sometimes buried quite deep in your subconscious, telling you that something matters, there’s information and intelligence there to be considered, material to uncover there, memories and associations to explore.”I think LaPlante is urging us to take ownership of our observations and see them for the signposts they are. They tell us to look here – see that. This matters. That has something potent to explore.
Paying attention, then, happens on two levels – we mine our world for details to put into our stories, plus we notice what we observe because it points the way to what we should write about.
What do you tend to pay attention to?