I was recently blessed with a new grandson. On his first day home, I took him around my daughter’s townhouse, showing him the sunbathing cats, dinner simmering on the stove, and the view from the patio doors. In doing so, I saw a few things I hadn’t noticed before. Like the way the geese rotated positions while paddling around the lake or the way Sam the Cat tilted his head to take in the spectacle of a tiny, squeaky person.
Cradling a newborn brought memories of my own babies. I remembered how surprised my daughter was when a light rain fell and tickled her nose. We lifted our faces to the sky and allowed the warm drops to trickle over our skin. On another day, she noticed spring buds bursting from the barren branches. We stopped and touched them, smelled them, explored them. I experienced my tired old world through new eyes.
Years ago, before the advent of GPS or cell phones, I was driving back to college. One of my classmates lived along the way, and I had offered her a ride. I followed her directions, yet when I got to where I thought she lived, I didn’t see her house. During my fourth pass, my friend ran out from between trees. I stopped, and it was then I noticed the red door of a house cut into the hillside, hidden by trees. When she was in the car, I asked why she hadn’t mentioned the house was cut into the hillside and hidden by trees. She looked surprised. “Well,” she said, “I guess I’ve lived there all my life and just never paid any attention.”
But that’s exactly what writers must do. We must pay attention to details. We’ve been told to “write what we know,” but sometimes “what we know” is too familiar. We don’t experience the buds and the rain—nor do we see the trees and hills. We take common smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and touches for granted—and we often do the same for the world we’ve created for our characters. To avoid doing this, we must learn to experience our surroundings with all our senses. Touch grass and notice the texture. Smell it. Taste it. Explore food. What type of smell does it have? Does it make any sounds? How does it taste on first bite? After chewing? How does it feel to our tongues? Train yourself to notice the details of your everyday world so when you sit down to write, you can pull from those experiences and provide more insight into your characters’ worlds.
If you want to improve your writing, write through newborn eyes.