Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pay Attention

Post by Lynn

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?


John Paul McKinney said...

Wonderful post. Thank you. I'm going to do the exercise. In fact, I think it could become a regular exercise, like going to the gym.

Luana Krause said...

Excellent post. I would probably be the person that noticed light, shadows, patterns, contrast, form, shape and color. First off. Then people - their faces, what they're wearing, how they stand or sit or walk. Also the sky and landscape.

Trisha F said...

Great advice in this post! Thanks for sharing.

Lisa Vella said...

Great Advice! I'm going to try this exercise. I never feel like I'm observant enough and I'll bet this would help! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Lovely post. I'm beginning to find that taking a lot of photos is a great way to jog myself into remembering detail. Annie Proulx told me she would sketch or paint landscapes as preparation to write. I'm not that good an artist, so I stick with the camera.

So how do you pull back when you start getting lost in too much detail and get sidetracked?

Megan said...

oh do i ever agree with this. thanks for that exercise, I know I will be using it.

Lynn said...

Wow - lots of observant people out there! Thanks for reading! To BlueBindweed: ain't that the question!? Getting sidetracked, I've been told, is part of the process. In first drafts, you let the details come as they will. In revision, you start to prioritize and then you have some decisions to make: where do I want to focus the reader's attention? Once you know that, you can add and delete detail as required. All, of course, easier said than done :)

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