I'm working on becoming a better observer.
Generally, I go about my business, I travel, I write in my journal about my experiences, and those jottings are too often self-absorbed treatises on what I'm feeling. I like this, I don't like that, I feel so fabulous this morning or life sucks, blah, blah, blah, endless variations on an emotional theme.
But lately I've been writing a bit differently in my journal. Instead of the endless scribblings that are all about me, I'm into an objective reporting vein–attempting to capture the essence of what its like to hang out in the Pasadena neighborhood where my friend lives, or documenting the unique aura of Ventura Boulevard, where I have appointments.
Its not that I haven't done this in the past, because I have. But what has happened before is that all of my experiences have gone directly into the alchemical pot of fiction, to come out the other side the same base thing yet somehow different. My new practice feels much more like a non-fiction, documentary approach.
And it requires careful observation, noting specific details. It reminds me of my brief career in drawing. Everyone in my family–all three of my older sisters got the art gene. (And the thin gene. Is this fair? I ask you, where's the fairness here?) One of my sisters even makes her living at it.
Okay, okay, so I got the writing gene–I'm not complaining. But I did once go off on a wild hair and decide I would start drawing. There's something so appealing about taking your journal with you everywhere you go and recording everything you see. And what I learned from drawing is that you truly, truly learn to look at the world and see it when you are drawing it.
And of course, that is what we do with words, whether they are arranged into fiction or non-fiction. I'm a wordsmith, not a visual artist, that's all there is to it. What I'm learning from my new documentary approach is how insight grows out of careful observation and objective reporting. By observing and seeing you really begin to get the gist of the situation.
The good news is that this kind of documentary writing can then be alchemized into whatever form you like–fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, poetry. So I'm finding its an excellent writing practice. And may I just point out that this is why writing never gets boring? There's always something new to discover.