The Writing Process: It's all about the details...
I’d like to share a post today that looks at the importance of paying attention to small things that often go unnoticed in order to create authentic, detailed writing.
As part of this post I’ll be sharing top tips to develop your writing process, a brilliant writing exercise to help you write with precision, a book recommendation that embraces often-unnoticed details to great effect and a poem inspired by my time at the Hamblin Centre, called My Mind is Hive, which goes into lots of detail about honeybees!
Top tips for develop your writing process…
1) Look up, Look down: Most of the time, we look straight ahead and keep our gaze at eye level, but it’s surprising what you notice if only you look up or get down to ground level. For example, when trying out some urban walking/writing exercises in Chichester I noticed the number of drain covers dotted around and crouched to listen to the gushing water underneath. This made me think about the world beneath our feet and the network of pipes that play a vital part in day to day living but for the most part go unnoticed by us. This small detail provided the spark for a poem that follows the trail of water from source, to treatment plant, to reservoir, to underground pipe, to tap. The poem is written from the perspective of the personified water and delves into themes of being forgotten and taken for granted. Poems are everywhere if you look.
2) Research, Research, Research: No one knows everything and the beauty of writing is that you get to discover a lot of new things. It’s important to write from a place of knowledge. For instance, if I don’t know how old apple trees can grow to be, or the life cycle of a cuckoo, the internet or the library is my best friend. When you can, though, go to the source. Which brings me on to my next point…
3) Use your senses: Don’t assume you know what a primrose looks like, feels like or smells like. Find one, engage with it and write from it. Your writing will be all the richer.
4) Carry a notebook and pen with you wherever you go: This might sound like an obvious one, but if you notice something you can write it down wherever you are. Otherwise, it’s easy to forget. The lovely thing about doing this is you can store up a brilliant bank of observations or snippets of overheard conversations providing fodder for future writing.
5) People watch: I don’t mean this to sound odd and subtlety is required, but people watching can provide excellent material for developing characters. I was once sat on a bench on Shoreham seafront when a white haired man dressed in a navy jacket, pressed shirt with neckerchief, white flannel trousers and a straw boater hat rode past on an old fashioned bike with a basket on the front. As he passed, he tipped his hat to me. He’s not a character I’ve used yet but he’s waiting in one of my many notebooks if I need him one day.
6) Visit the same place often: Although it’s wonderful to engage with new surroundings, it’s also surprising just how much more you see when you visit the same place often. You’re not distracted by finding your way or surface level observations because you’ve seen them before. That’s when you really start to look.
A Writing Exercise for you to try…
This writing exercise was given to me by one of my lecturers at university. I’ve found it really helpful when writing about objects or from paintings as it provides you with a more immersive interaction with what you’re viewing or holding and helps you write with more detail and accuracy.
You can write using prose, poetry or poetic prose – it’s entirely up to you. I would recommend having an object or painting in front of you whilst you’re doing this which provides a great excuse to go to a museum!
This exercise has three parts which are as follows:
1) Describe an object or scene in an ordered sequence, generally giving equal weight to each detail. Focus on relative proportion, shape, colour and material, ie: factual observation, rather than wonderful imagery. For example: The plastic ball is postbox red and approximately 25 centimetres in diameter.
2) Using the same object or scene, write a dramatic description using a mixture of descriptive and evaluative adjectives, as well as simile and metaphor. There should be a clearer hierarchy of information with some aspects given more descriptive weight than others. It is important to note that the description should not flag up who is viewing the scene or object, ie: you are not involved in the narrative. For example: The red plastic ball is taut like the skin of an unripe tomato.
3) Using the same object or scene, write a subjective description which actively involves the narrator’s own reflection and considerations of what is being described. It should be both descriptive and build backstory and character. For example: My father had a red plastic ball just like this when he was a child. He stored it at the back of the garage despite the fact it looked like an overripe tomato that had met the underside of a heavy shoe.
Scarp by Nick Papadimitriou
What an astonishing book. Nick Papadimitriou writes about a 14-mile ridge of land on the outskirts of North London known as Scarp. In his book he brings to life this mostly forgotten landscape with information gathered whilst walking and documenting over a number of years. Without doubt, he is at one with the land and it’s hard to see where he ends and the land begins. Papadimitriou sees so much value in exploring and getting to know the same space, fuelling his personal understanding of self which he sees reflected back in the landscape before him. His faultless attention to detail and unique way of writing makes this a book unlike anything you’ve ever read before. If you’re looking for inspiration to help you reconnect with landscape and self then this is the book for you.
My mind is a hive
of activity, a winter cluster
of bees, frantic to protect
the queen. They cling
and beating their wings.
I focus on the queen
trace the length of each antenna
circle her ocelli
move between each branched hair
up and down veined wings
follow the segments of each leg
travel along her sting
on a pair of spiracles
watch her breathe
observe the swarm
from her compound eyes
slow the frenzied thrum
to a low hum
allow them to leave
Until next month, then!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and my poem!
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