In fueling writing, observation is as important as imagination. To amp up your observational skills, take a cue from Jeanette Winterson’s essay “Art Objects” (from the book of the same name). Frustrated by her inability to appreciate fine art, Winterson decided to look at a single painting for one hour. She writes, “[. . . A]rt is an extraordinarily faithful transmitter. Our job is to keep our receiving equipment in good working order.” A writer friend and I decided to try it. Our ground rules: no talking, no taking notes. We could sit, stand, walk around, but our eyes were to stay on that painting. For one hour. Go.
We chose a Cezanne landscape, a forest empty of people (so we wouldn’t invent stories about them, interfering with whatever transmission otherwise might arise). An hour later we burst into conversation, startled by what we’d seen: a patch of yellow, barely discernible at first, became prominent and sinister, suggesting fire; a path emerged in woods we’d thought impenetrable. Such deep observations shouldn’t be limited to fine art. Wherever you are, slow down, look, and discoveries will be at hand. Make this a regular practice and your writing will become richer.
From Laura Fraser (Your Inner Geek: Writing about Medicine, Biotech, and other Sciencey Stuff, 4 sessions starting Thurs., June 23; The Ultimate Pitch: How to Write a Book Proposal, 1 session Sun., July 10)
Note Two: What We’re Reading Now