The best writers are keen observers of the world around them. By being present and observant, you’ll find it easier to pick up on the unspoken messages, overlooked details, and subtle cues you can use to give your writing more authenticity. Writer’s Relief found an excellent example in The Santaland Diaries by observational writer David Sedaris: “The woman at Macy’s asked, ‘Would you be interested in full-time elf or evening and weekend elf?’” Using your powers of observation to add realistic dialogue and other accurate elements to your stories or poetry will help you be a better writer.
Being observant means more than simply glancing around from time to time. “Looking” and “seeing” are not the same thing. Seeing—or syncing your mind to the world around you—helps you become more in tune with nature and also gain a better understanding of other people. Improving your powers of observation is a learned skill, so with a little practice, you can become more descriptive and enhance your creative writing skills.
Bonus: Having stronger powers of observation can also lead to a deeper sense of self-awareness and help you feel calmer!
How To Improve Your Powers Of Observation And Become A Better Writer
Eliminate Distractions: It’s too easy to become distracted by your smart devices, bingeing a new series or scrolling through cat videos, funny memes, and TikTok dancers instead of paying attention to where you are and what’s around you. Unplug from the Internet, step away from the tablet or cell phone, and be more present in your daily life.
Engage All Your Senses: Develop your observational skills by engaging all of your senses. For example, if you’re outdoors, ask yourself: What color is the sky today? Am I hearing birds or traffic or both? How does the breeze feel? Do I smell flowers, or salt water, or evergreens? Or stop by your local coffee shop: Does the coffee taste bitter or sweet? Can you smell pastries being warmed? Is the café quiet or filled with noisy chatter? Are the seats smooth metal or softly cushioned? Adding sensory details will help you improve your writing.
Change Your Routine: When you stick to the same routes or habits, you’ll find yourself operating on autopilot (Show of hands, how many of us have started off for the grocery store, only to find ourselves absentmindedly driving to work?). Wake up your brain and go somewhere new or try something different to heighten your awareness and focus your mind. Take a different road to work, try a new flavor of tea, learn another language, write in another genre—there are many ways to add something new to your everyday routine.
Bonus: Walking boosts your creativity! Rather than driving to a nearby destination, consider walking there instead.
Spend Time People-Watching: At work, in a store, or sitting in the park or a doctor’s office (anywhere, really), take a moment to fully observe those around you. Notice their facial expressions, what they’re doing, and the way they walk or sit. Catch a glimpse of what clothes they’re wearing, the jewelry they have on, and even the state of their shoes. Observe any gestures and listen to speech patterns: Are they nervously fidgeting, or do they have a regional accent? People-watching will help you to write more realistic characterizations.
Use A Sketchbook: As writers, we’re used to thinking in words and sentences. By drawing what you see instead of writing about it, you’ll force your mind to be more aware and see things anew. Here’s an interesting exercise to train yourself to be more observant—try drawing an image that’s upside down! Because you can’t make assumptions, you’ll focus more on the details and how they interconnect.
Try “Small Stone” Writing: Created by Satya Robyn, a small stone is “a short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully engaged moment.” It can be a poem, a flash fiction piece, or a fully realized short story, as long as it embraces the entire depth of an experience in words. By encouraging you to notice the small yet significant details in life, small stones can help you become a more mindful, engaged, and descriptive writer.
It’s important to regularly exercise and strengthen your observational skills. By noticing the little moments and details—while brushing your teeth, walking the dog, standing in line at the bookstore, or anything or anywhere else—you can become a more observant person and a better writer.
Question: How might you become a more observant writer?