The Importance of Noticing To A Writer

Noticings are a writer’s life source...

Part of the writer’s role is to draw attention to the details of the world. For this reason writers need to develop a capacity for keen observation.

Think for a moment what this means for teaching student writers. Teaching writing needs to delve way beyond structural considerations.  If teaching energy and focus remains solely on the mechanics of writing, the writing will remain functional at best. It will undoubtedly lack voice and precision. 

A teacher who assists the developing writer to grow as an observer, to connect strongly to the world in which they operate, provides the student writer with vital skills they can apply, not just to the writing they undertake, but to learning in general. Developing the writer as observer, creates an all-round curious learner. To teach writing in this way, empowers the writer, empowers the learner.

In order to achieve this, the writing teacher must practice detailed observation in order to become a model of a vigilant writer. Such observations become critical sharing events in the classroom. The young writer needs to be exposed to a world of possibility. We must open this world of possibility to student writers. They deserve no less.

 The writer who closely observes, strives to make the everyday aspects of the world sparkle with renewed appeal for the reader. They write in ways that aim to shake the reader out of complacency, alerting them such possibility. As Ralph Fletcher states, ‘Writers react.’ They react to the various things they encounter as they go about their lives. They notice and record things other people pass by, omit, or discard. 

Writers also notice the range of human emotions that pervade life. They record the various aspects of mood swirling around us as we negotiate each day, -Anger, happiness, irritation, contemplation. When we become aware of the emotional world, we are better placed to describe such feelings with greater authenticity and understanding. When we learn to write with such descriptive honesty it assists our readers to see themselves in the words we convey.

Jerry Spinelli uses the craft strategy, show don’t tell to accurately capture the extent of Amanda’s anger in this passage from ‘Maniac Magee.’

‘Amanda cried. She tore a magazine in half. She punched the sofa. She kicked the easy chair. She kicked Bow Wow. Bow Wow went yelping into the kitchen. ‘See!’ she yelled at the front door. ‘See what you made me do. Jeffrey Magee! Jeffrey Maniac Crazy Man Bozo Magee!’

As teachers of writing we must alert student writers to the ways writers capture small moments and add small details to illuminate, and write with precision.

I am currently reading the verse novel, ‘Another Night In MulletTown,’ by Steven Herrick (A young adult novel). Steven Herrick demonstrates his keen observational skills and sharp noticing when he writes:

The ability to read like writers develops by noticing the craft moves of writers we encounter in our reading lives. It requires practice and develops across time. A teacher's noticing of such craft is essential if student writing is to flourish.  

As teachers of writing, we do our students a disservice if we don’t draw attention to these important aspects of writing. In order to do this most effectively, we too must learn to pay attention, be alert to possibility. We must learn to collect scraps of detail in our notebooks as we negotiate the days of our lives. Noticing is a writer’s life-source providing an essential connection to our readers. 


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