The Writer As Observer

Writers need to have a keen sense of observation. They need to notice things. Teaching students to be keen observers is not only critical to their writing development, but has implications for developing their world knowledge. A large part of writing is related to close observation of the physical environment in which the writer operates.

If we want students to notice their world we must teach into it. After-all, they are a strongly visual generation. Let’s assist them to grow as discriminating viewers. Developing a writer’s keen eye for observation will serve them well. The more we notice, the more we chip away at our individual ignorance

Let’s get started:

Such observation works best if the observer is not pre-occupied with other matters. Sometimes it requires self talk to refocus the energies on the immediate surrounds. -to observe consciously. Learn to clear the mind first.

Ralph Fletcher encourages writers to push beyond the sight of things and look at other less glamorous senses such as; smell, taste and touch when making observations.

This close observation is akin to eavesdropping. The writer listens for snatches of conversation. On the train, at the park , in a shop, -snatches of conversation float in the air awaiting capture. The writer notices simple behaviours –quirky, bizarre, normal and records them.

On a Brooklyn bus one morning I overheard this snatch of conversation,
When I grow up, I want to be a reporter and get my photo on the side of a bus for no particular reason.”

I heard this gem in a New York bar, “You can’t just sit there and drink yourself into Bolivia!”

More recently in an anonymous staffroom I heard, “The kids drink that blue juice and it’s so full of sugar- We’re the ones who should be drinking it- then we could keep up with them.

The writer notes the unspectacular and draws attention to it. ‘He tugged gently at his beard as if to ensure it was secure.’

Look at small things. Remember a piece of writing is about something. That doesn’t mean the subject needs to be grandiose. “My sister turned and left the room without saying a word- that’s a story." -Particularly if my sister is not known for silent departures.

Learn to breathe in the world wherever you happen to be- in bed, under a tree, in your local coffee haunt, at the airport.

Me, I’m off to sit in Mornington’s ‘Via Boffe’ where I will enjoy a coffee and make some observations. It’s good to write in different places. It takes me away from the usual distractions of the house and re-attaches me to my wider physical world.

Teaching young writers to be observant doesn't take a lot of effort- but you'll be amazed at the results!

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