Insight Begins with Sight

Newcastle sunrise

Newcastle sunrise

“Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing.”
Flannery O’Connor

We often think that to write about travel we have to go on expensive trips to faraway exotic lands. But for someone on the other side of the world our place is an expensive trip to a faraway exotic land.

When my city, Newcastle, made No. 9 on Lonely Planet’s list of the Top 10 Destinations in the world you couldn’t hear the surf break for our explosions of incredulous laughter. Ordinary dull Newcastle? Bah ha ha ha.

After we picked ourselves up off the sand we started to look around at what we believed was our ordinary dull city. We looked at it as if we were visitors seeing it for the first time, and we noticed things that had always been here but we hadn’t taken the time to see. The clear sharp light of a summer day, the shabby grandeur of the colonial buildings, the clean smell of eucalypts, the cool gush of a southerly buster, the taste of salt as you dive into the surf, the easy friendliness of the people.

Because someone from a faraway exotic place believed we were a Top 10 Destination we looked again at what we had. We looked through their eyes, and what we saw was different from what we believed we had always seen.

It’s not enough for writers to write what they believe they see. Their job is to write with insight, to show their readers something in a way they haven’t perceived it before. It requires them to really look, really listen, really pay attention to what is around them. It takes time to train themselves to observe the intricate and intimate details of things.

So if you want to be a writer step away from your computer. Put down your ipad or phone. Go out into your back yard, or down to a café, the beach, the river or the bush.

Write about what you can see, touch, hear, smell or taste.

Don’t write down your thoughts or feelings or opinions or beliefs.

Write about the concrete sensory world that’s all around you, then come back and tell me what you discover.

Because insight needs sight.

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5 Responses to Insight Begins with Sight

  1. suemasens65 says:

    I love this Karen., I have lived by Lake Macquarie for nearly twenty years but it was not until I took ownership a little dog which had to be walked that I noticed the beauty of the lake in the early morning dawn and the exotic sunsets on the late afternoon walks.. I now have a much wider appreciation of where I live.

  2. Whoa that was deep. Made me question my own writing which is so rife with emotion and thought, opinion and belief that I haven’t taken in the world around me. A great insight indeed. Thanks!

    • Thanks for your wonderful comment, Nthato. I can also get so lost in what’s going on inside my mind I forget the way to make the reader experience what our characters are going through is by evoking their concrete sensory world.

  3. Interesting concept about our local ‘exotic’ places. Coincidentally, just today I went to a meet-the-author at Wangi library where Jaye Ford talked about her crime novels set in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. She said that her European audiences in particular see her settings as exotic (she used that word), even though she’s actually describing ‘just the lake’… She said lots of crime fiction is set in Sydney, Melbourne or the outback, but her books are set right here in our own backyard. It was a great afternoon… very inspiring!

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