On Being a Writer: Notice

Continuing to join in with, enjoy and get a lot from the On Being A Writer online discussion at Kate Motaung’s blog. The discussion is based on Ann Kroeker and Charity Singleton Craig’s book On Being a Writer: 12 simple habits for a writing life that lasts

Today’s prompt (and the topic of the 4th Chapter of the book under discussion) is Notice.


I don’t have a problem noticing things. It’s part of my nature (apparently it’s a characteristic of people with the INFJ personality type). I actually often have a problem turning off my noticing skills: I sometimes can’t stop looking, don’t want to leave places that stimulate me (usually when I’m in Nature or a crowded place with lots of interesting people to people watch) and find myself constantly imagining stories based around the people I’ve seen or the places/buildings/doors I’ve passed (does anyone else like interesting doors or is that just me?!). My head is a well-populated place!

I’ve read that a lot of people have trouble noticing so, for my contribution to the discussion, I decided to brainstorm ideas about how to improve one’s noticing skills and I ended up deconstructing the process I use when I want to be more mindful about my noticing. Here goes:

  1. Clear your mind. You’re less likely to notice anything if your mind is occupied with the things you still need to do/the silly argument you had with the cashier/is planning tonight’s dinner/the million other things we manage to keep juggling in our heads at any one time (!)….clear your mind and you’ll have space to be able to notice.
  2. Find somewhere comfortable to sit and get comfy. Then prepare yourself to just notice. Let go of anything that’s weighing your mind down.
  3. Close your eyes. Feel the place with your other senses: What can you smell? What can you feel on your skin? What can you hear? [This step is important; it’ll disconnect you from where you ‘were’ mentally to where you ‘are’ physically and will allow you to enter your period of noticing much more mindfully]
  4. Once you’ve closed your eyes for a few minutes, and you feel more relaxed, more mindful, open your eyes and see. I don’t mean look, I mean see. What’s in front of you? What’s around you? Don’t just look at them but take the time to consider them, to really see them.
  5. Once you’ve seen around you for a while, start to focus on the things that interest you. Then take the time to explore everything about them. If it’s a person, look at their face, their hair, their clothes, their shoes. If a building, note it’s height, size, paint colour. Take the time to notice the main characteristics.
  6. Close your eyes and try to remember the things you were drawn towards. Try to recreate them in your mind’s eye.
  7. Start to describe what you saw when you considered it in detail. As the famous advice states: Show don’t tell. Use all the things you felt (with your other senses), use all the details you managed to see. Use them all to describe what you focused on.
  8. Repeat as necessary!

I use this process often, especially when I’ve been stressed and I find myself feeling really disconnected from my surroundings. I find it helps me become much more mindful of my surroundings and definitely helps me to channel my nervous energy in to something positive and relaxing.

It’s a process that’s also helped my writing a great deal. I often find it’s much easier to describe imaginary situations or imaginary people than it is for me to describe things I’ve actually seen, or situations I’ve lived (because no-one else has seen them!), but this is, I’ve realised, a lazy option, as a writer.

I feel that we need, as writers, to be able to describe our reality, without projecting our feelings or distorting that reality and, I know for myself, that my own writing didn’t improve until I made the real, conscious, effort to faithfully describe things/events I’d experienced/lived.

I couldn’t start to faithfully describe (reproduce?) the situations/characters I had in my head until I’d made the effort to learn how to describe anything in an interesting manner, reproducing every aspect of it in such a manner that the resulting description was not only a faithful approximation of it’s essence but, also, an interesting read because it was much fuller, much more authentic.

I hope this might help some people: I’ve learnt so much from all of you over the last two weeks that I really hope my (very minor) suggestions might help some of those of you who are struggling with noticing! [Isn’t that the great thing about a community like this one, that we, each of us, can offer something valuable that’s of help to others? Love it!]

Helen xxx


21 thoughts on “On Being a Writer: Notice

  1. helen, i love your suggestions. they are great! i’m not sure i would know how to describe them to someone else. having you do it here has helped me do that:) blessings to you today in your adjustment to your life.


  2. by the way, those flowers are stunningly beautiful:)


  3. Wonderful suggestions Helen and I love the meditative aspect to it all. I think I’m also an observant person by nature – but I think when you’re talking as a writer it’s about noticing on a whole other level. I think it’s a wonderful skill to have to be a good writer! And that you sure are my Dear. xo


  4. annkroeker says:

    Your ideas are so creative–like you’re painting someone in your mind’s eye in order to recall them later. I daresay you could work for the CIA (maybe you do, but we’ll never know!!). 🙂


    • iwillbloom says:

      Hi Ann, thanks for taking the time to comment. Yes, absolutely: I hadn’t thought of it like that but, yes, it’s very much like painting the things you see so you can recall them better later. [Had to laugh at your CIA joke: I’ve been ‘bulk-watching’ Homeland again and again recently!]


  5. Joy Lenton says:

    I love the way you notice things, Helen, and these great suggestions will help others to ‘see’ life better as well. And you’re not alone in your fascination with doors, by the way. They appeal to me too, as do windows, gardens, sky, clouds… et al. Our writer’s eyes need to be observant and it seems to be a natural quality in you. 🙂 x PS: Absolutely love the stunning floral photo above. Where did you take it?


    • iwillbloom says:

      Joy: so good to ‘see’ you! Glad to know there’s another door/window/garden/sky/clouds/’everything’ lover 🙂 The photo: it was taken at an orchid festival I went to a few months ago. I loved the sight of all the flowers/colours/textures….

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Gabriele says:

    Your process ideas are just what I needed. I’m going on another artist date tomorrow and I will take your ideas with me and notice a tad more carefully.


    • iwillbloom says:

      Gabriele, am intrigued by your artist’s dates! Hopefully you’ll find the ideas useful in practice (you’ll feel a bit silly closing your eyes at first – especially if it’s a public place – but it *really* does help!)….Helen xxx


  7. Carly says:

    Helen, your ideas are really helpful to me. I often have too much going on in my mind to properly notice my surroundings and I think these tips will be really helpful in focussing and switching off from distractions. I will definitely be trying these suggestions- thank you for sharing them.


    • iwillbloom says:

      Hia Carly, yes, the steps do, honestly, help you to make the switch and to filter out the ‘in-head’ distractions. Hopefully they’ll work for you (thanks so much for taking the time to comment!)…Helen xx


  8. Tara says:

    Helen, I had no idea that noticing is a strong characteristic of INFJs. I too am an INFJ. And reading your post so much about what I notice makes more and more sense.


    • iwillbloom says:

      Hi Tara, I found out I’m INFJ about a year ago now and, since then, I’ve been researching/reading around and it’s literally *incredible* how accurate the descriptions of ‘an INFJ’ fit with how I am as a person….I definitely recommend reading around the subject of being an INFJ: it helped me *immensely* and gave me so many answers to all of my ‘weirdness’…!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. “I feel that we need, as writers, to be able to describe our reality, without projecting our feelings or distorting that reality and, I know for myself, that my own writing didn’t improve until I made the real, conscious, effort to faithfully describe things/events I’d experienced/lived.” This is so true. Trying to be authentic in my writing rather than writing what sounds hip and cool. It’s hard especially when I have to admit what kind of music I ACTUALLY listen to and not what make me sound interesting or intellectual. Also I’m an ENFJ. Not surprised. My head is also a populated place! Hard to be present. Thank you for your tips! xoxo


  10. Carrie Ann says:

    I love how you made this into a step by step process. I am also an INFJ, been studying it as well, it is very fascinating, and accurate. 🙂


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