Use the Sense of Sight in Your Writing

What big eyes you have! All the better to see!

In the past several weeks, I've featured individual sensory details that help bring our writing to life. The final one today is the sense of sight. As stated before, adding sensory details brings your writing to life, it allows the reader to be part of the scene. He/she can relate to all those senses.

I think that using sight in your writing can be a bit confusing. You don't want to say I see a  building ahead. It's not necessary to use the verb forms--see, saw, have seen--at all. To use sight, you'll need to add colors, shapes, appearances, and sizes. You can use adjectives like tiny, hazy, shadowy, drab, murky, huge and more. The minute the reader processes those words, an image comes to mind. 

Look at that sentence above again. I see a building ahead. Pretty generic sentence, isn't it? You could make it more interesting and relatable by changing it to something like this:  The huge building ahead is dazzling as the sun directs its rays toward it. Your mind sees a much better picture than in the first sentence where all you are told is that there's a building ahead. In the second sentence, you see the size and also the way the building shines from the sun's rays. 

How about this sentence? Mary walked to the shoreline. We know Mary is at the beach and that she has walked to the edge of the water. We can help the reader see her better if we say something like this: Mary bent over and picked up a smooth rock, then continued to the shoreline swinging the shoes she held in her left hand. Here, you have a much better picture, don't you?

When you have written a first draft and are ready to edit, look for places where you can add sensory details. Consider using all five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) to bring your writing to life, to aid your reader in getting the full picture.  

I ran across an excellent article about using all five senses. It would be worth your time to read it. I thought it interesting that motion can be considered in this group, as well. 

NOTE:  If you enjoy a post at this blog, please consider sharing it with other writers. Since Facebook still will not allow me to post a link to my blog, I have fewer places to be able to share. Someone reported my blog as being abusive. Why is the big mystery, but an even greater one is why Facebook will not listen to my pleas to allow me to use my blog link? I can do anything else on Facebook except that. Some of my posts have been under review for more than 3 months now which tells me they are being ignored. Needless to say, it's been a frustrating situation. 

Write About the Weather

Have you ever read a novel or short story that has little or no description in it? Dialogue and action moving the characters may be present, but the author doesn't bring the reader into the story. Letting the reader know what kind of day it was is one way to help develop an image in his/her mind. 

If I read that Tom and Mary are driving through a snowstorm, but the author tells me nothing more than that tidbit, I'm not going to have feel for what they are experiencing. If I read that Bill and Bob, two little boys, are walking home from school in a thunderstorm, and that's all the author says, then I can't feel what they feel. I want to be able to connect with the girl who is frightened by lightning as she runs home. I want to be able to feel her fear, and the author can help me do that by describing the lightning and showing the girl's reaction. 

For a writing exercise today, go through the list below and write a descriptive sentence or paragraph for each one. All are weather-related. Some can be combined.

  • snowstorm
  • thunderstorm
  • lightning
  • sunny day
  • ice storm
  • sleet
  • sprinkles
  • very cold temps
  • very hot temps
  • high humidity
  • blizzard
Doing the exercise now will help you when you're writing a story. You'll probably remember some of what you wrote for the exercise and can apply it.  Writing exercises are not 'busy work.' They are meant to help you learn and grow as a writer. Doing them is to your benefit. And sometimes, they can be fun!

Writers and Their Craft

What's the dictionary definition of the word apprentice? The one that applies to us writers is:
  apprentice: a learner; novice; tyro.

Below the definition, there was a section called Words Related To Apprentice. Under that was:

pupil, flunky, rook, tenderfoot, beginner, novitiate, neophyte, newcomer, heel, student, rookie, amateur, tyro, starter, greenhorn, probationer

Reading those related words made me smile and even grin a little. As our quote says, we are all apprentices or learners,, but many of the related words describe us at different stages of our writing journey quite well. My personal favorites are:  flunky, tenderfoot, rookie, and greenhorn. Which ones do you relate to?

What the poster quote says, and what I've written here, shows that we are never finished learning this craft. In one way or another, we will always be apprentices. Just as an apprentice carpenter moves from the simplest tasks to the fine art of creating wooden masterpieces, we start with the easiest types of writing. Then, as we gain experience, we increase our output, our ability to relate to the reader, and our more professional type of writing. We are rookies when we begin writing, but we raise our status as we increase the amount of writing we do as well as the kind of writing. 

Never be offended by considering yourself as an 'apprentice' writer. You may be at an advanced stage of apprenticeship but still learning. As for me, I hope that I never stop learning about my craft. No matter how much we've learned, there is always more knowledge to be gained. 

In the quote, the phrase where no one ever becomes a master may be slightly off. I do think that some writers are true masters of our craft, but their numbers are in the minority of writers. Even so, it's what we all strive for. 

Self-Doubt and Writing

Read the poster quote three times. Now, sit back and ponder on that for however long it takes you to agree with what author, Sylvia Plath said. 

As writers, we are creative people. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back for that achievement. Not everyone can do what we do. Creative people tend to be self-doubters, and that includes artists, writers, and performers. The big question is Why?

If I had the answer to that question, I would write a book that you all would buy. I would be rolling in money, and you would be rid of all self-doubt. In a perfect world, that is.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I am a person who tries to look at the positive side of almost everything. So, my first suggestion is to make a list of all the positive things about your writing and the writing path you walk day after day. Don't be humble. List everything that is positive about you, the writer.

Then, make a list of the things you would like to change in your writing world. Looking at it with objective eyes, which ones are possible to change? Which ones are never going to change? Which will change if you make the changes?

Try another list. Put down all your publishing successes, whether it be a national magazine or a church newsletter. If you have two or more, give yourself another pat on the back. We know that our writing journey is taken in small steps. We don't reach the gold ring with one hop, skip, and jump. It takes time and hard work. Be a bit of an egotist if it helps. Just don't be an irritant to other people.

The last point I want to make for today is one you've heard from me more than once. You are the one who can make the changes. You are the person in charge. You can give yourself a boost, or you can tear yourself down and increase the self-doubt.

Writers--Watch Out For These Five Traps

So tempting...

The following is an article I wrote a number of years ago that was published at a writing website. A few things in my writing world made me think it was worth posting here as a reminder. Writing is first and foremost on this journey to publication, but we get tempted to pause for a number of things, good things that can balloon into more than is healthy for us. 

Five traps to be aware of

Writers are urged to write often, write voraciously, to write, write, write. Even so, we know that to win the prize—publication—there are myriad things we must do besides putting words on paper or our computer screen.

Each of the following writer-related items is beneficial, but if we aren’t careful, they become traps. We can become caught in a spider web of good intentions which eat into our writing time. Let’s consider them, one by one.

1.  Reading About Writing:  We buy or borrow dozens of books that give us the keys to good writing. We immerse ourselves in one after another. We might become so busy learning that the application part is forgotten. Read books on the craft of writing but be selective and limit the number.

2.  Websites, Blogs, and Newsletters for Writers:  The editors of both offer articles to read and classes to take. They present markets and contests, writing prompts and exercises. Seldom satisfied with one, most writers subscribe to several, sometimes much more than several. They do have some excellent information but take precious time to read. Pick the ones you like best and unsubscribe from the others.

3.  Critique groups:  A face-to-face critique group offers constructive criticism and praise for our work, as well as an opportunity to network with other writers. We can profit greatly in a group like this. They also take time. Ask yourself if it’s worth the precious hours you might otherwise spend writing.

4.  Research:  This is a necessary part of writing for many as well as being pure joy for some writers. We can get so involved in the process that far more time is spent than is needed. With practice, a writer can determine the appropriate amount of time to give to the research end of a story or article.

5.  Organizations for Writers:  Joining a local, state or national group offers networking possibilities with other writers, leads on markets and publishers, and a way to keep up with the latest trends in your field. All of them require officers and committee chairs and members who will serve on the committees. Keep your membership in a select number of these groups and limit your participation in what you can handle.

All of the above are worthwhile endeavors. The key is to maintain a healthy balance. Review your writing activities occasionally to make sure you aren’t falling into a trap. When you produce fewer and fewer pages, it may be time to step back and assess the reasons.

Financial experts advise clients to take the savings out of the paycheck first. Writing is no different—those thousand words a day must take precedence over all the other writing-related aspects of your life. You know what the traps are, and by practicing self-discipline, you can avoid all of them. Your greatest benefit will be more time to write.

Receiving Critiques On Your Writing

Writers are often told to join a critique group or do a one on one critique session with another writer. It will help you, the writing gurus say. It's true that you'll benefit from having other eyes on your work, but there can be a bit of a hitch, too.

It's not an easy task to expose your writing to others who are going to point out all the places you need to improve. They're going to tell you what works and what doesn't, mostly what doesn't. You may end up feeling like they're tearing your beautiful prose to shreds. 

You have to make an attitude adjustment if you want to put your work out for critique. 
  1. Remember that it is not YOU these people are criticizing; it's the piece of prose or poetry you offered for critique and they are doing it to help you, not to hurt.
  2. Go into it with the idea that you are going to learn from what the critiquers tell you.
  3. Be grateful that you find the problem areas before you submit the piece to an editor.
Keep in mind that the critique person is looking at your work with objective eyes. The writer is 100% subjective when reading his/her own work. 

Last week, I sent a story to my critique group. One that I wanted to submit for a new Chicken Soup for the Soul book. I thought it had turned out well. Seems other eyes saw a number of places that could be zipped up, words that weren't necessary and places where better words might have been used. I used many of the suggestions from the 5 critiquers to polish the story, then waited a day before sending it to the publishers of Chicken Soup. I felt very grateful that the women who had critiqued the story had helped me have a better chance of being accepted. A real plus was that they all liked the story and let me know what areas they especially enjoyed. 

When I offer a critique, I always try to give positive feedback along with the suggestion to change this or that. I think it's important for the writer to know the good spots as well as finding out the places that need work.

If you don't let others read and critique your work, your odds of being published are not going to be as high. Not always, of course. There are writers who never have others look at their writing and still get published. But, getting those objective opinions can be a great help, and I urge writers to do so. Maybe the good piece could become a great one if you let others critique it.

So grumble and groan if you must, but do everything in your power to make your writing publishable. Yes, you will have more work to do when you take the suggestions of those who critique your work. Nobody ever said writing would be easy. 

One last thing to remember. You do not have to take every suggestion you receive from others as ' you must change this' kind of help. Read the suggestions, ponder them a bit, then decide if you want to change it or keep as is. You are the one in charge. However, when two or more people point out the same trouble spot, sit up and listen. 

Writers--Try Something New

I learned yesterday that a friend of mine who is a fine poet has written a book for children. The story includes children of all ages, ethnicities, and abilities. I haven't read it yet, only the blurb at the website where it is being sold. 

The author of the book, Ronda Miller, has spent her writing journey in the wonderful world of poetry and has done a fine job, being published in many places and publishing her own books of poetry, as well. Stepping out of the writing world she knows so well and moving into a new kind of writing is what interested me. I applaud her for doing so.

Many writers find their niche, their strength, in the writing world and stay with it forevermore. Stepping into a new kind of writing brings a lot of things to the writer--excitement, a bit of fear, growth as a writer, and learning something new. Perhaps that 'bit of fear' keeps many writers from venturing into a whole different type of writing. 

Don't let that 'bit of fear' keep you from trying a new kind of writing. if you've only written fiction, there is no reason why you can't try creative non-fiction. It's merely a true story that is told using fiction techniques. That's not straying too far from what you already know. 

If you've always written prose, why not try writing a little poetry? Free verse is a good place to begin. No worries about meter and rhythm, and a correct number of syllables. It involves your thoughts from the heart put into words. You can choose to cap each line or not, to punctuate or not, to divide into verses or not. I call that Freedom!

In reverse, if you've always written poetry, there is no rule that says you cannot write prose. Just look at the choices you have. You can write fiction, non-fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, inspirational and more. 

There are writers who have tried several genres, found the one in which they have achieved some success, and stay with it. That's alright. It's safe and comfortable. If you have a spirit of adventure, branch out and try something new. Nothing says you have to stay with it if you don't enjoy the kind of writing you try. You can always move right back into your comfort zone.

As for me, I enjoy trying different kinds of writing. In my bio, you'll see that I write short stories (fiction), personal essays, travel essays, fiction stories for children, poetry and articles on writing. To be honest, I would get bored writing in the same slot day after day. That's me and my personality. Yours may be entirely different. 

I do urge you to experiment with some new-to-you type of writing. After all, it's a new month, a new year, and a new decade. How about a new you?

Use the Sense of Sight in Your Writing

What big eyes you have! All the better to see! In the past several weeks, I've featured individual sensory details that help...