ABCs of Creative Nonfiction: P is for Paying Attention

Posted by on Jul 21, 2016 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

HeadshotPay Attention – There’s a World In There

Writers have so many words swirling around inside their heads but are often stuck for a vehicle to retrieve them and drive them out. Therefore, writers are constantly on the lookout for inspiration, for a muse, for something or someone to give them that jolt that will open a crack in their mind and let the words tumble forth. It is very important for all writers to PAY ATTENTION. Writers should always be attuned to their surroundings using all their senses – what are people talking about? What is the weather like? What is the environment in which you find yourself? The smells? The sounds? The climate? But I’m not telling you anything new. So what is new? Perhaps what we need to do is go deeper.

I challenge you to open your senses as if you were missing one or more. When a person is missing their sight or their hearing, their other senses magnify, become even more attuned to compensate.

What if you tried a little experiment? Can you pick a place that is quite busy and put yourself there, depriving yourself of your eyesight or your hearing – dark glasses and sit with your eyes closed beneath them; sound-canceling headphones – simply sit for a half-hour to an hour. Record what you discover in a notebook or on a digital recorder—any interesting sounds or sights that might be useful in a future project or in a project you’re currently working on. What did you notice? Did you choose an indoor or outdoor space? Try it again but this time switch – go outdoors if you were inside or inside if you were outside. Go to a diner and linger over a cup of coffee. Eavesdrop on the conversations around you. My gosh, what a goldmine for dialogue and storylines.

All writers know, writing isn’t always about sitting at your favorite spot in front of a computer or a blank page with a pen poised. Sometimes, it’s about getting out there and doing some field research – stretching your legs and your mind – dusting out the cobwebs. Mostly it’s about paying attention wherever you find yourself. Writing never takes a vacation – that line, that image is always tagging along waiting for the right time to be plugged in. And, bottom line – it’s fun! Just remember to pay attention wherever you find yourself.


Barbara Wanamaker graduated from Fairfield University in 2009 while working fulltime and caring for her five children. She went on to earn her MFA in 2013. Barbara’s poetry and stories are published in Mason’s Road, Spry, Ebullience, What Next? A Guide to Life After the MFA, Time for Singing and in Penwood Review. Barbara recently moved to Vermont with her husband Greg where the mountains provide new inspiration.

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