Friday, March 27, 2009

Developing a writers' eye

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.


Fiona said...

I also teach writing and come out of each course feeling that I've learnt something along the way too. I think if I ever get to the end of one and think: 'I got nothing out of that for myself as a writer' then it'll probably be time to quit. Great blog by the way.

Rod Duncan said...

Thanks Fiona. I've added your excellent blog to my favourites list, so will be calling back regularly.