By: Marilyn L. Davis
“Writers are first and foremost observers. We lose ourselves in the watching and then the telling of the world we find. Often we feel on the fringes, in the margins of life. And that’s where we belong. What you are a part of, you cannot observe.”― Lisa Unger
What Do Writers Observe?
I think all writers are a particular type of voyeur.
- We watch.
- We listen.
- We absorb the energy of the conversation at the adjacent table.
- We stand in the shadows of the exchanges.
- We record our observations and hope it resonates with readers.
I also think that many of us appear socially awkward because we are often focused on the nearby conversations and not the person in front of us. I think it is also because, only in our writing, can we make sure that we’re sounding coherent. We have the luxury of drafting and then editing, which obviously we don’t have in conversations.
Ideas: Write Them Down
I’m a firm believer in the writer’s notebook. It’s that place where we put the haphazard thoughts on paper. If you’re not keeping a notebook, you won’t know what thought you had last Tuesday that will work nicely for your piece on Friday. Note: Don’t worry about the rhyme or reason of them until you finalize your topic.
On Thursdays, I pull together these accidental thoughts, taking the time to categorize and store them on the computer under “Darlings”, which are not complete unto themselves, but some are sentences or even a paragraph that I know will work for Two Drops of Ink or for From Addict 2 Advocate.
Sometimes these snippets are opposing or contrasting points of view about a topic. But I’ve found that conflicting choices produce some excellent writing.
When you review these odds and ends, ask yourself:
- Did you write what you know or take a stab at another genre?
- Is this just a rehash of previous topics?
- Is this a different slant on a favorite subject?
- Did this random thought contribute to better understanding of the topic?
- Is the passion evident in this passage?
- Did one thought or feeling prompt additional ideas?
Humans, and that does include writers, have the ability to think tangentially. Although in the extreme, it is a mental health condition, that ability to find seemingly random associations and create a compelling piece has helped many of us take our ideas and create interesting stories and essays. Let your mind wander from one fact to the next and see where it takes you.
How a Desk Prompted a Memory
I was cleaning an antique desk the other day and although I thought it was walnut, I wasn’t sure. Just thinking that it might be walnut reminded me of my Uncle Alva’s walnut grove. There were probably about 20 black walnut trees growing in that one area of his back forty acres. Each year we would put on our gloves to harvest the nuts. But unlike some other varieties, black walnuts had to be cured, so there wasn’t an immediate treat. In fact, most of what Uncle Alva taught us about the woods seemed to be a lot of hard work, then we’d have to exercise what little patience children have and wait for the rewards.
Not only did he have a walnut grove, but he tapped his maple trees as well. The wait for the snow candy didn’t seem as long as the wait for the walnuts to cure and enjoy in a black walnut cake, either. So, how did my associations get me to a memory of Uncle Alva and the walnut cake and snow candy? I let one random question take me from walnut desk to walnut grove, to learning about the woods, to reflecting on the lessons and wallah – I’ve got a piece.
That’s how tangential thinking works; one thought generates another which in turn produces a third. Writing is taking those parts and assembling them into an interesting piece, or example in your blog or article.
I Didn’t End Up Where I Thought I Was Going
When I started this piece, it was about the writer as observer, and while I still think that is true, I realize that I’m heading elsewhere. But is that where I want this article to go? If you find your writing is going in a different direction than you intended, you have three choices:
- Continue down the yellow brick road and visit Oz.
- Reign yourself in and get back on track. This might mean removing whole passages and saving them in your darling file. If you wrote it once, it might have worth for another piece.
- Determine if you’re still on the right track, and if you are, you may just need to stop and explore a variation on your theme for a few hundred words.
I think about poor Bugs Bunny; always trying to get to New Mexico and lamenting, “I KNEW I ‘shoulda’ [should have] made ‘dat’ [that] left ‘toin’ [turn] in ‘Albakoikie’ [Albuquerque]”).
Some of us think we know where we’re going on a piece, only to be distracted by a secondary idea about our topic and decide that we should explore it. I will sometimes change font color and one idea is written in black, the other in blue. I give myself permission to go in multiple directions and decide which end destination makes more sense or is the more informative read on the topic.
Sometimes, writing is improved by the texture and nuances that ancillary information provides the readers.
We always have the choice to write from breadth or depth in our pieces, and sometimes that left turn determines focus.So, how do you know if you’re still engaging the reader? Well, you don’t. But if the additional information has merit, they are probably still with you.
Again, I wanted to write about writers as observers, but isn’t it correct to let you know how observation of the desk led me to snow candy and then to Bugs? It’s the stories and personal experiences of the writer that often help another see that their line of thinking has worth.
Didn’t Take the Left Turn? Then Join Us
Two Drops of Ink is more than a site for me to write. Part of my job as the assistant editor is to encourage other writers to view it as a growing community of poets, novelists and bloggers who share their ideas, show us how they view the world and offer advice on better writing.
When we are exposed to the various ways that writers use their talents to convey information, our perspectives are broadened as well.
When we get to see another perspective, we may go off on a completely different tangent as a result of the prompt, which means that it didn’t matter that we missed the left turn in Albuquerque; we got to see another side of an issue.
Your words will touch another in ways that I can’t because how something is said is just as important as what is said. That’s not a negative assessment on how I write, just the simple fact that each of us writes in our voice, style and tone and readers will respond differently to those choices even when the topic is the same.
We encourage you to submit and expand the choices that our readers have.