Leading creative writing classes, I usually feel more like a collaborator than a teacher. After all, I am on the same journey as the students. We all want to improve our writing. There is no end-point when we will be able to say, "I do not need to improve any more."
Every course I teach, I find myself picking up new things. As the present novel writing course comes to its conclusion on Monday evening, I am thinking about the things I have learned.
One of these is the way in which writers develop a special perception of the world around them. Some people have a natural "writers' eye". They describe scenes with beautiful economy, using telling details that other people might not have noticed, but which, as soon as they are mentioned, conjure a clear picture in the readers' minds.
Right back at the beginning of the course, I asked people to write a description of a place. One of the students, Jackie, was describing a run-down bedsit. She wrote that the curtains in the window didn't quite meet and were held together with clothes pegs. I loved that detail. By choosing this particular detail to show, she let us know a huge amount about the place.
Developing this writers' eye, this intensity of perception, is something we can practice. The simple act of carrying around a small notebook will help. And if you want an exercise to work on, how about this - over the next couple of days, be on the lookout for a picture that tells a story. When you see it, fix it in your mind. Let me know if you see something good.