What Can You See If You Really Look?

Deep observation is an important part of the writer’s craft. If you can really notice the details and what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, listening to, you can make your writing vivid and alive. Today’s exercise is one I repeat on every Write, Travel, Transform workshop: the 12-inch exercise.

Each writer goes out to find a 12 inch square of nature, something that at first glance appears to be stationery. My instructions are to sit in silence and just watch that 12 inch square for half an hour. During that time, they cannot take any notes, only use their eyes and senses for observation.

After half an hour, I ring a gong and they can begin to take notes while observing their square, and after a full hour in silence with their 12 inches, they return to the group and report their experience.

Here’s some of what they said today:

“I can’t believe I liked it. When you said it, I said, ‘Oh shit.’ But it was fascinating. I kept seeing more and more and more.”

“I was interested in looking at it closer and from a distance.”

“I also resisted and then I used my imagination to imaging what I was seeing from an ant’s point of view. I pretended I was an ant and it led to a whole story about it being their playground.”

“I was pleasantly surprised. I assumed I’d fall asleep, but it kept my attention.”

“I don’t know if I liked it or not.”

“I fell in love with what I was observing. The more I looked at it, the more I warmed to it.”

“I was surprised by the dimensionality—how deep and wide and how many layers there were.”

“I didn’t have the words to do justice to what I was seeing.”

“There were innumerable things to see. The slowing down idea is very interesting. I found it worthwhile.”

“I found it hard to focus for that long on that little…I spent a lot of time wrestling with myself.”

Since we were getting closer to 6:00 PM, sunset every day of the year here, so close to the equator, it quickly became too dark for people to share their writing. We passed an i-phone flashlight around our circle. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Tonight is our last night in Candidasa. Tomorrow we head on to stop #2: Ubud, the more urban part of our trip.

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