Writing from the forgotten senses

IMG_3078For three days last week the wind blew the rain horizontally. It pelted against the window glass and the drops sounded like someone throwing sharp needles.

Last week I’d given myself a writing challenge: to write somewhere different each day, observing and recording the detailed images in the world around me. You can find my post about detail here.

In this wild weather leaving the house was as appealing as volunteering as a dart board.

So first confession: I ended up writing in the same place for the week.

But from my dining room table I noticed there were worlds of different details to explore: the alchemy in dawn light that can change the yellow tablecloth I bought in Menerbes to gold, and which then reminded me of the autumn vines across Provence; a single blue gym shoe with a white tick that swung from the electricity wire scaring the myna birds much better than the scarecrow I built to protect the olives; a knot in our cedar table that reminded me of the whirl in the fringe of my sister’s red hair.

By writing about the details I observed from the dining room table, I went on unexpected voyages through time and place. Most of the things I wrote about reminded me of other things I’d seen or experienced, some I hadn’t thought about for years. I wrote down whatever came to mind, to see where it led and for the pleasure of it. There was no pressure to produce anything. All I was doing was practicing and strengthening my observation skills and recording detail.

I learned that sight was my dominate sense, with a focus on its associated aspects of colour and light. As a lover of photography that didn’t surprise me.

So I started including the other senses. Have you ever tried to put into words what peanut butter toast tastes like? Or tried to describe what a very itchy insect bite feels like? That I’m not showing you what I wrote must give you some idea of the quality of these little “masterpieces.”

So every morning this week this is what I did. As soon as I got up I made a cup of tea, opened my writer’s journal and started writing. I placed no limits on how much or how long I wrote. I just wrote until I stopped writing, or when I needed to.

Today I completed the task I set myself. Achievement feels good, doesn’t it? And I really enjoyed doing it. I learned valuable things about my writing, like how much I suck at writing convincingly about the taste of things.

But I also feel bereft, as if a beloved and exciting friend had been for a visit and had just left.

So for the fun of it I want to set myself another writing challenge for this week: to practice writing about the physical world without using the sense of sight. I’ll have to rely heavily on those other under-used senses of touch, smell, taste and sound.

Why don’t you do it, too?

Let’s keep an eye out in our reading for how other authors write from the senses. If I find anything great I’ll post it here. If you find a great example please share it in the comments!


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4 Responses to Writing from the forgotten senses

  1. dianathrelfo says:

    Your writing challenges have poked me in the ribs, Karen – from now on I intend to start my afternoon ‘siesta’ with writing instead of cryptic crosswords and scrabble. I’ll make attempts at ‘loving the detail’ and ‘drawing on all the senses’. Many thanks for your inspirational blog posts.

  2. You’re very welcome, Di. It’s important we all find the time that suits us best. I’m thrilled you’re taking up the challenge!

  3. Ooh, loving this post! I have been told by many writers that my writing is very “sensual” but I think that, as with you, my primary sense is the visual one. Perhaps the feeling one too, being a healer and whatnot, and picking up on sensations that are unknown or unrecognised to quite a few.

    I really like that you picked up so much from your environment (even though it was a narrower space than you’d first planned). It feels as though it made your “time in” mindful and present, and deeply creative. I am primarily focusing on non-writing aspects of our business at the moment (apart from a few 1000-word pieces for Writers’ Cirlce) so will try to bear your words in mind when I have the mental energy for writing again!

    So glad I decided to drop in today, and found this!

    • It’s always a pleasure to have you visit, Joanna. You’re right, my ‘time in’ did feel very mindful, almost like a meditation. I hope the non-writing aspects of your work is going well so it won’t be long before you can concentrate on creating again. Thanks for the conversation!

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